India toxic alcohol kills 21 in Orissa

A victim of the toxic alcohol in Orissa being taken to hospital on 8 February 2011
Image caption Toxic alcohol deaths are a regular occurrence in India

At least 21 people have died after consuming toxic alcohol in Orissa, in eastern India, officials say.

Residents of villages close to the city of Cuttack fell ill after consuming liquor spiked with chemicals used in the manufacture of some medicines.

Thirteen more people are being treated in hospital, with fears the death toll could rise.

Toxic alcohol deaths are a regular occurrence in India. In December, at least 169 people died in West Bengal.

The Orissa government has ordered a judicial investigation into the incident.

Nine people, including eight liquor sellers, have been arrested.

Companies raided

The first deaths at a hospital in Orissa were reported on Tuesday morning. The death toll continued to rise through the night, with more people being admitted.

State excise commissioner Sudarshan Nayak told the BBC that the patients had consumed locally made liquor with some "chemicals used in medicines which had some alcohol content".

Authorities have raided two pharmaceutical companies in the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, and arrested one employee for allegedly supplying the chemicals to the liquor makers.

The illegal alcohol - commonly called desi daroo or country-made liquor in India - usually costs as little as 10 rupees (20 US cents) and the majority of the consumers are poor, daily-wage workers.

The tainted liquor can lead to fits, vomiting and death.

Orissa has witnessed many incidents of toxic alcohol deaths.

Nearly 200 people died in Cuttack in 1992 after consuming a deadly combination of methyl and ethyl alcohol.

In 2009, 33 people died in two separate incidents in Khurda district after consuming country liquor.

Gujarat has taken the strongest action on toxic liquor with its new law which, it says, is intended to deter those involved in the illegal trade.

The illegal manufacture and sale of toxic alcohol there is now punishable by death.

Gujarat, Mizoram and Nagaland are the only states in India where alcohol is totally prohibited by law.

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