At least 31 people died and 20 others were hospitalized in serious condition after allegedly drinking tainted liquor sold without authorization in eastern India, a top elected official said Thursday.
The deaths occurred Tuesday and Wednesday and the victims belonged to three villages in Saran district of Bihar state where the manufacturing, sale and consumption of liquor are prohibited.
The deaths were reported in a district government-run hospital where the sick were brought by their families for treatment, said Dr. S.D. Sinha, the hospital chief.
Sale and consumption of liquor were prohibited in Bihar state in 2016 after women's groups campaigned against poor workers splurging their meager incomes on drinking.
Police officer Santosh Kumar said several of the 20 hospitalized have lost their eyesight.
Several opposition parties, including the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, held protests Thursday outside the state legislature building to demand the state's liquor ban be scrapped and some monetary compensation provided to the bereaved families.
Sushil Modi, the state BJP leader, said more than 1,000 people have died after drinking tainted liquor since the ban was imposed six years ago. The BJP is in opposition in the state.
Nitish Kumar, the state's top elected official belonging to the socialist party Janata Dal, rejected their demands and said the ban on the sale of liquor was "not my personal wish but a response to the cries of the women of the state."
Three people have been detained for questioning for allegedly selling spiked alcohol in the area, he said. Saran district is nearly 60 kilometers (40 miles) north of Patna, the Bihar state capital.
Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol are common in India, where illicit liquor is cheap and often spiked with chemicals such as pesticides to increase potency. Illicit liquor has also become a hugely profitable industry across India, where bootleggers pay no taxes and sell enormous quantities of their product to the poor at a cheap rate.
At least 28 people died and 60 others became ill from drinking tainted liquor in the western Indian state of Gujarat earlier this year. Gujarat is another Indian state where the manufacturing, sale and consumption of liquor are prohibited.
In 2020, at least 120 people died after drinking tainted liquor in India's northern Punjab state.