At least 29 people, most of them labourers, died and about 50 were taken ill after consuming spurious liquor in 12 villages of Azamgarh and Mau districts of Uttar Pradesh on Friday.
Officials said over 50 people have been hospitalised since Thursday and many of them have lost their eyesight. Two hooch deaths have been reported from Sutrahi Tandwa village of adjoining Mau district.
Deputy excise commissioner Harsh Chowdhury said excessive quantities of methyl alcohol in the country-made liquor could be the reason behind the deaths though the post mortem report only can pinpoint the exact cause.
Alcoholic beverages made by fermentation of various substances have ethyl alcohol as their active ingredient. Any alcoholic beverage made under unlicensed conditions is called illicit liquor and under such conditions methanol or methyl alcohol can be produced with the desired ethyl alcohol.
Methyl alcohol, which is like ethyl alcohol in taste and smell, is extremely toxic— 10 ml can cause blindness and 30 ml can cause death within 10 to 30 hours.
Villagers said Gopal Chauhan of Adampur village and Uday Raj Chauhan of Narao were the first to report uneasiness after consuming the liquor on Thursday. Both were admitted to the district hospital, where they died late on Thursday night.
Till Friday evening, a total of 29 persons had died and the toll many go up as the condition of many villagers undergoing treatment was said to be critical.
Among the dead is father-son duo, Prakash Rajbhar, 40, who died on Friday morning a few hours before his father Ram Dayal Rajbhar, 62.
Station house officer of Mubarakpur, a sub-inspector and four constables have been suspended on charges of dereliction of duty.
In Lucknow, taking a serious view of the incident, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav ordered suspension of district excise officer Om Prakash Singh and four other employees of the department. All of them have been accused of slackness in discharge of their duty. The CM has also ordered thorough inspection of liquor shops in the state.
Illicit liquor trade has been flourishing under the eyes of the policemen in Mubarakpur, the local residents allege.
"On several instances I have reported to cops and officials of the excise department about brewing of spurious liquor. But nothing was done," said a liquor trader of Mubarakpur, who did not want to be identified.