A relative sits with a patient being treated in hospital after allegedly drinking tainted bootleg alcohol in Tarn Taran in Punjab state on Aug. 2. (Photo: Narinder Nanu/AFP)
Church leaders in India have expressed shock after 101 people died at the weekend after allegedly drinking tainted bootleg alcohol in the northern state of Punjab.
State officials told media on Aug. 2 that 78 died in Tarn Taran, 12 in Amritsar and 11 in Batala.
“It’s a tragedy which could have easily been avoided had relevant authorities been more alert. It is a manmade tragedy,” Bishop Agnelo Rufino Gracias, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Bombay and apostolic administrator of Jalandhar Diocese, told UCA News.
“Our heartfelt condolences go to the bereaved families who lost their loved ones.
“What also makes this sad is that when the country is fighting Covid-19, profiteers are putting the lives of ordinary people at further risk by supplying them with toxic things."
It wasn’t clear whether any Christian families were affected by the tragedy.
Meanwhile, police officials told the New Indian Express newspaper that a man from Tarn Taran was controlling an illicit liquor racket from behind bars.
They identified him as Gurpal Singh, who is serving a prison sentence at a jail in in Kapurthala, another city in Punjab state.
They said initial investigations revealed that Singh’s organization was smuggling alcohol into the Punjab from neighboring Uttar Pradesh state.
The liquor was made from methyl alcohol and distributed in the three districts where the deaths were reported. It was so strong that it was considered harmful even after being diluted at least 10 times.
Meanwhile, the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) staged several protests across the state calling for a judicial inquiry into the deaths.
The protesters accused the state government of “gross negligence,” which led to the high number of deaths, with most of the victims coming from poor families.
The state’s chief minister, Amarinder Singh, said he has ordered a magisterial probe into the case and announced the suspension of seven excise and six police officials.
He called the police and excise departments’ failure to halt the manufacturing and sale of bootleg liquor as “shameful”.