Spurious liquor has left three people dead and 15 hospitalised in Kerala, where close to Rs 600 million worth of Indian made foreign liquor was sold around the festival of Onam.
The incident took place late on Tuesday night at a toddy shop in Kunnikode, about 70 kms from Thiruvananthapuram, in Kollam district. Those sick have been admitted to the Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram.
"The conditions of three are serious, while others are recovering," said a doctor.
A resident said that every year during the Onam season - this year the festival was observed on Monday - toddy shops try to outdo each other by offering free 'bonus' toddy to their regular tipplers. But in this race, the shops adulterate toddy with spirit.
"I drank a few glasses and knew it was not toddy but just spirit. After a few hours of drinking, I fell unconscious and now I am in hospital," said a victim who is reported to be out of danger.
Police have swung into action and taken into custody the licensee, a woman called Sarasamma. But those who served the liquor are absconding.
"We have asked the Kollam district police superintendent to inquire into the incident. Chemical tests have also begun to see what spirit was served in the toddy shop. None will be spared," Excise Minister PK Gurudasan said.
The opposition Congress has called for a shutdown in and around Kottarakara and Punalur to protest the incident.
Locals say the amount supplied by the only man who taps toddy to the shop accounts for just 10 litres every day. But the daily sales there at peak time touch a record 1,000 litres - suspected to be illicit liquor made with methyl alcohol.
Toddy is tapped from coconut and palm trees. But because demand far outstrips supply, toddy shops in Kerala have been known to resort to selling spurious liquor.