NEW DELHI — At least 95 people have died in northeastern India this past week after drinking poisonous homemade alcohol, officials said on Saturday.
The liquor may have been contaminated with toxic methyl alcohol, according to local news reports. More than a half dozen people have been detained for questioning, and the state of Assam has opened an investigation.
The deaths occurred weeks after about 100 people perished from another batch of illegally made liquor in northern India. Survivors said the liquid smelled like diesel fuel and looked unusually milky.
Mukesh Agarwal, the additional director general of police in Assam State, said dozens of people had died within hours of drinking spurious alcohol on Thursday evening in the districts of Jorhat and Golaghat in northeastern India. Most had been working at tea plantations.
“What went wrong this time, with the suppliers, we are working on that,” Mr. Agarwal said, adding that the police believed that the liquor had come from multiple suppliers.
Dr. Saurabh Borkotoki, a medical superintendent at Jorhat Medical College and Hospital, said more than 200 people were admitted by midday on Saturday with intense stomach pain, vision loss and bouts of vomiting. So far, at least 40 of those admitted have died from cardiorespiratory failure, he said.
“The patients keep coming,” Dr. Borkotoki said, adding that the number of open beds was dwindling and the toll could rise.
Hundreds of Indians die each year from consuming illegally made alcohol, known locally as hooch, or “desi daru,” which means “indigenous alcohol.” Bootleggers often sell the liquor in pouches that cost as little as 40 cents.
In one of the largest cases in recent decades, more than 170 people died in 2008 after drinking illegal brews in poor areas of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states.
The police traced this month’s deaths in northern India to a criminal network that had been brewing alcohol in an underground factory hidden in the forests of Uttarakhand State. They seized tens of thousands of gallons of liquor.