Assam hooch tragedy: Death toll rises to 124, over 331 undergoing treatment

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Tragedy had first struck the Halmira Tea Estate on Thursday night when plantation workers gathered at the house of a tea plucker to celebrate the birth of a baby.

Assam hooch tragedy comes close on the heels of the death of almost 70 people recently in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand after consuming spurious liquor. After the situation was brought under control, the minister met with the victims undergoing treatment and assured them of all possible help.

Police have arrested 16 people so far.

The death toll from liquor poisoning in India's northeastern state of Assam rose to 143 on Sunday as scores were still hospitalized in what is considered one of the deadliest bootleg alcohol tragedies in the country in recent times.

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Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who visited the affected people at Jorhat Medical College Hospital (JMCH) on Saturday, has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of each of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to those who have fallen ill for treatment.

Though the Assam state excise minister claimed to have taken steps to stop the sale of country liquor, sources said that it has failed to make any impact on the ground. Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told AFP that state authorities had collated "at least 80" deaths in the districts.

Cheap, locally made booze is common in rural parts and bootleggers often add methanol - a highly toxic form of alcohol sometimes used as an antifreeze - to their product to increase its strength. If ingested in large quantities, methanol can cause blindness, liver damage and death.

An average of 1,000 people, a lot of them poor, die in India each year after consuming illegally brewed alcohol, government data shows.

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Eighty people died in February in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states after drinking illegal homemade brew.

About 100 people died after consuming the tainted moonshine. "Most of those admitted are in a stable condition", Hazarika said. Of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol drunk every year in India, around 40 percent is illegally produced, according to the International Spirits and Wine Association of India. People are poor and thus are not educated about the side effects of the bootleg liquor.

The entire staff of a local police station in the eastern state were suspended for "dereliction of duty" and failure to stop bootlegging.

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