One of India's worst hooch tragedies hits West Bengal

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It has been a horrifying few days for West Bengal. A fire in a Kolkata hospital claimed 93 lives on December 8 and now, one of India's worst hooch tragedies is unfolding in the state.

121 people have died and over 100 are in hospitals with more reporting sick after consuming the liquor in a village.

The victims, who had on Tuesday night visited some illegal liquor dens near Sangrampur railway station in the village by the same name in South 24 Parganas district, were mostly from the poorest sections of society.

"So far 121 people have died," district police superintendent L.N. Meena said.

Sangrampur falls under the Diamond Harbour subdivisional headquarter.

Seven arrested

Seven people have been arrested for supplying moonshine in the area. Most victims belonged to Usthi, Mandirbazar and Magrahat areas.

Official sources said more people have been admitted to hospitals since Wednesday evening. Patients were coming in even on Thursday morning and the toll was likely to rise, they said.

The victims were mostly in a Diamond Harbour hospital, some were admitted in neighbouring areas while yet some were even brought to Kolkata for treatment.

Politics begin

The chemical mixed in the liquor has not yet been identified, said district magistrate N.S. Nigam.

The opposition Left Front has decided to take out a condolence rally from Sangrampur railway station on Thursday. The tragedy is already taking a political turn with Bengal Chief Minister 'indirectly' blaming the Left Front, according to reports.

In an interview soon after the deaths, Mamata Banerjee said, 'the illegal liquor business has been going on for some time in the state. When we try to take action, resistance comes from different quarters'.

Making a statement in the Assembly, Banerjee said seven persons had been arrested on the basis of preliminary administrative enquiry into the incident, but the owner of the liquor den Badshah Khokon, named in the FIR, was absconding.

CID to investigate

Investigation into the incident had been handed over to the CID, she said. Something toxic was mixed in the liquor, she said, adding as per reports last received.

Banerjee said the state government had already announced compensation of Rs two lakh for the families of the dead.

She added that an all-party decision must be taken on the steps required to end the menace of illicit liquor. She said the government could have legalised the business and earned revenue for the cash-strapped exchequer, but would not do it. "Character cannot be bought with money," she said.

A health official said the victims died of cardio-respiratory failure due to methyl poisoning.

Those taken ill have been admitted to the Diamond Harbour Hospital, health centres and nursing homes. Some have been shifted to Kolkata.

"From around 2 a.m. Wednesday, people started vomiting, had loose motions and complained of serious stomach pain," said a Sangrampur resident.

Locals said quite a few people died outside the hospital as well.

This is one of the worst liquor tragedies in India. Earlier in 1992, over 200 people had died in Orissa after consuming spurious liquor. In 2009, a similar incident in Gujarat left 136 dead.

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