March 22, 2006

Death toll from Indian killer brew rises to 40

HYDERABAD (Reuters) - Forty people have died from drinking
homemade alcohol in southern India over the past five days,
including 17 attending the funeral of a man who was also
poisoned by toxic brew, officials said on Wednesday.

Farmer D. Jaggaiah died on Saturday in the southern state
of Andhra Pradesh after consuming moonshine that had been
smuggled from neighboring Orissa.

Ten people died and 16 were hospitalized after toasting
Jaggaiah at his funeral in Ratta Kanna village, 730 km (450
miles) northeast of the state capital Hyderabad.

Seven more victims died in hospital on Tuesday, according
to local official Y. Chaitanya Murali.

The mourners knew Jaggaiah had died from consuming a deadly
brew but, following a custom of drinking toasts at funerals,
they apparently assumed their drink was safe. It was not clear
whether the same batch of alcohol was to blame for the deaths.

Officials said another 23 people died after drinking
country liquor in border villages in Orissa over the past five
days. While Andhra Pradesh had banned the production and
consumption of so-called country liquor, it is a licensed
product in Orissa and smuggling is rampant, officials say.

The drink sells for as little as eight rupees (18 cents) a
bottle, one-third of the price of commercial liquor.

Toxic varieties are made from regular spirits, to which
bootleggers add a cocktail of ingredients that could include
vegetables, battery acid and pieces of old rubber tire.
According to common lore, such ingredients can make the brew
more intoxicating.

The deadly mix is then boiled and distilled, and kills
hundreds of poor Indians every year.