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84 dead in India after drinking toxic homemade liquor

84 dead in India after drinking toxic homemade liquor
An Indian woman holds a picture of a family member who died after consuming toxic homemade liquor in the Laxmi Nagar slum near Mumbai. (AFP/Getty Images)

At least 84 people have died after consuming homemade liquor in a poor neighborhood outside Mumbai, the deadliest such case in the city area in more than a decade, officials said Saturday.

Five people were arrested and eight police officers suspended pending an investigation into how the illicit liquor was allowed to be sold over the counter from a neighborhood shack, the city's police commissioner, Rakesh Maria, told local media.

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The deaths occurred in the Laxmi Nagar slum in the suburb of Malad, a fast-growing area north of Mumbai, India's financial capital. Officials said all the victims consumed the liquor on Wednesday night and had apparently suffered methanol poisoning.

Methanol, a simple alcohol that can damage the central nervous system in humans, was reportedly added to a batch of homemade liquor to increase its potency, police said. The concoction was sold for 10 rupees a glass, or about 15 cents.

Cheap country liquor is commonly available in India, and scores of people routinely die from consuming a toxic brew. Nearly 170 people died in 2011 in a similar case in the eastern state of West Bengal.

Authorities and excise officials regularly conduct raids on bootlegging operations, but the practice continues to thrive, particularly in slums where officers can be bribed to look the other way.

In the deadliest recent case in Mumbai, in 2004, 87 people died after consuming toxic liquor. Four men convicted of supplying the hooch were sentenced to life in prison and 15 others received lesser terms.

For more news from India and South Asia, follow @SBengali on Twitter.

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