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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 12:52 GMT
More die in India alcohol tragedy
Tamil Nadu village
Villagers choose to buy the cheaper, illegal drink
At least 53 people have now died in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu after drinking illegally brewed alcohol on Thursday.

Doctors say the more deaths are expected - more than 35 people are still critical ill.

Two people who sold the toxic liquor have been arrested.

Many victims are still probably holed up in their huts in villages, too scared to go to hospitals fearing police action

S Davidson Devasirvatham
Police superintendent
This is the fourth tragedy in rural areas of Tamil Nadu in the last three months in which more than 70 people have lost their lives.

Many of the sick are being treated in hospitals in the towns of Cuddalore and Panrutti, south of the state capital, Madras.

No beds

Fifty of the survivors have lost their sight. Hospital workers are struggling to cope.

"We are treating them in the corridors. We just don't have the beds," the head of the Cuddalore hospital, S Jayaraj, told the Associated Press news agency.

But the scale of the tragedy could be much worse.

"Many victims are still probably holed up in their huts in villages, too scared to go to hospitals fearing police action," police superintendent S Davidson Devasirvatham told the AFP news agency.

"I have asked my men to go around the villages to assure them there will be no action taken against them and they must immediately rush to the nearest hospital," he said.

Experts say the deaths and sickness were probably caused by a high methanol content in the brew.

Most of the victims were poor labourers.

Police collusion

A ban on the sale of alcohol in Tamil Nadu was partially lifted in the 1970s to generate tax income.

Local police are accused of taking bribes to ignore the drinking
But poor people buy illicitly made alcohol because it is much cheaper and is said to stronger than legal brews.

It is often drunk during festivals, weddings and funerals.

Police say illicit distillation has become a lucrative business.

The BBC's Sampath Mukar in Madras says successive governments in Tamil Nadu have claimed that they have successfully eradicated illicit distillation. But the latest incidents show that the campaign has still to go a long way.

Social workers say that in most of villages police are bribed to ignore the trade.

A number of police officers in the area have been transferred and suspended.

Social workers say that with no quality control, the distillers add all sorts of chemicals and odd ingredients to increase the drink's strength.

Earlier this year, a village woman who fought against the sale of illicit liquor in a village near Madras was murdered.

See also:

01 Apr 98 | Despatches
Prohibition ends in Haryana, India
24 Nov 00 | Africa
Kenya's illegal alcohol industry
18 Feb 00 | South Asia
Illegal alcohol deaths
11 Oct 00 | Americas
Tainted alcohol kills over 100
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