Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 18:42 UK

Assam probe into mushroom deaths

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Allegations that poverty caused the 'mushroom deaths' have been denied

An enquiry has been set up into the deaths of more than 20 people who ate mushrooms in India's north-eastern state of Assam, officials say.

The state government has asked scientists to look into the deaths, which have triggered panic and confusion in parts of Assam.

Assam Agriculture Minister Pramilla Rani Brahma has set up an investigative panel into the deaths.

It will be led by Assam Agriculture University Vice Chancellor SS Baghel.

Scientists at the university say that the mushrooms consumed by affected people in the eastern Golaghat district were of a highly poisonous variety called Amanita Phalloides Vaill.

"AAU scientists have said that this particular mushroom variety that is very poisonous grows and flourishes under the season's first showers," said Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Admitted to hospitals

On Monday, a three-year-old girl died after eating mushrooms in eastern Tinsukia district.

Five other members of the family have been admitted to a specialist hospital in the area.

So far, around 50 people are being treated at various hospitals in the state.

Local media reports said those affected had eaten mushrooms grown in the wild and were extremely poor people who lack other food.

The state government, however, has denied such reports.

"We are sure poverty is not the reason for those people to consume mushrooms, because the areas from where such cases are reported grow vegetables in abundance," Mr Biswa Sarma said.

"But we have called for a socio-economic survey of the affected people."

The mushroom deaths have been mostly reported from Sibsagar, Golaghat and Jorhat districts in eastern Assam.

More than 25 people fell ill after consuming mushrooms in Golaghat and neighbouring Jorhat districts early last week.

Sixteen were admitted to different hospitals, and 12 of them died by late on Friday evening. "We have asked the officials in the respective districts to collect samples of mushroom in and around the villages, where deaths have so far been reported from," said Mr Biswa Sarma.

"The samples will be sent to labs for tests."

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