The three children of Satyavel Nagan Kawander, who died after drinking toxic moonshine, weep as their father's body is brought home.
Bootleg alcohol deaths hit India's poor hardest
02:30 - Source: CNN
New Delhi, India CNN  — 

Indian police have launched a crackdown on illegal bootleggers after 80 people were killed drinking toxic moonshine in the country’s north, police said.

India has long grappled with the problem of fake or illegal alcohol, which is affordable and readily available for many impoverished people.

Police believe the deaths occurred when victims across two neighboring states drank from the same batch of illegal homemade brew, which was produced by a criminal group operating between Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The majority of the deaths were reported in Uttar Pradesh, with 36 dying in Saharanpur district and eight in Kushinagar, according to district officials. Thirty-six people died in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar district, Janmejay Khanduri, the region’s police superintendent, told CNN.

In a press conference Tuesday, Khanduri said police have arrested two suspects accused of selling the illicit liquor.

“From our investigations, we have found that the chemical was transported from Haridwar to Saharanpur,” he told CNN, adding that authorities were waiting for test results to confirm the chemical used.

The investigation into the poisonous liquor is ongoing and eight people, including the two sellers, have been arrested, police spokesperson Shalin Sharma said.

About 400 liters of illicit booze was seized during joint operations by police in both states.

Police said the criminal group conducted its operations out of villages hidden in the forests, where the toxic drinks were mixed.

“Regarding the source of the alcohol, we have found traces of several locations in the forests where the liquor was produced,” Dinesh Kumar, superintendent of police in Saharanpur told reporters on Saturday. “There are three or four villages where there are criminals whose profession it is to make this alcohol.”

Ongoing problem

Deaths from cheap, illegally brewed liquor – often containing toxic methanol – are not uncommon in India.

The moonshine is typically brewed in villages before being smuggled into cities, where it sells for about 10 cents a glass – about a third the price of legally brewed liquor.

More than 100 people died from drinking illegal homebrew in a Mumbai slum in June 2015, police said, while more than 160 people died from drinking a bad batch of moonshine in West Bengal in 2011.

According to SafeProof, a group which lobbies against counterfeit alcohol, illegal liquor can be deadly “when other liquids like rubbing alcohol or methanol are added to the distilled spirit,” enabling sellers to increase the amount of liquid and its potential potency.

Methanol can make people feel inebriated, but even a very small amount can be toxic. Methanol poisoning can cause confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches and the inability to coordinate muscle movements.

It can prompt nausea, vomiting and heart or respiratory failure, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The byproducts of methanol metabolism cause an accumulation of acid in the blood (metabolic acidosis), blindness, and death,” a CDC report said.