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Indian state plans to launch cheap whisky to prevent deaths from bootleg alcohol

The northern Indian state of Punjab plans to launch an inexpensive variety of locally made alcohol to wean a section of drinkers off unsafe, bootlegged whiskey.

The government of chief minister Bhagwant Singh Mann recently informed the Supreme Court that “it wants to give people a cheap variety of country liquor” as a healthier substitute for homemade whiskey, according to Times Now.

This was informed by the Excise and Taxation Department of the Aam Aadmi Party-ruled state in an affidavit, the news organisation said. In the same hearing, senior advocate Ajit Sinha informed the court that the police have also strengthened local-level intelligence to detect and destroy illegal liquor manufacturing units, according to the report.

At least 39 people died and several others were hospitalised after consuming fake spirits in India’s eastern state of Bihar mid-December, where the sale and consumption of alcohol have now been banned for six years.

Most of the victims, some of whom had been sick for days, were declared dead on arrival at a hospital in Bihar’s Chhapra. The district administration formed teams to tour the affected villages and meet the families to track the seller.

Spurious alcohol has claimed as many as 5,900 lives between 2017 and 2021, reported the Strait Times, adding that Punjab accounted for 780 of these fatalities.

It further reported that the drink, produced at authorised distilleries and expected to be available in the market by March 2023, will have a 40 per cent alcohol content.

Each 180ml pouch of this liquor will cost around Rs 25 (£0.25), compared. A litre of potentially fatal hooch costs approximately Rs 100 (£1), the news report stated.

“People who die in hooch tragedies are mostly from the poor and working class who do not have the means to pay for safe and good liquor, which is why they fall for this cheap spurious liquor,” Ajay Pal, a lawyer who represents the Punjab government in Supreme Court, told The Straits Times.

In 2020, at least 104 from drinking adulterated alcohol. The toll in such cases often increases as families hesitate to receive medical help for the fear of legal prosecution.

In July this year at least 20 people died in the western state of Gujarat after drinking hooch. Authorities said industrial methyl alcohol stolen from a chemical unit was used to make the spurious liquor.

Sales and consumption of alcohol are prohibited in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where only those holding a permit issued by the government can consume liquor.

Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, popularly called hooch or country liquor, are common in India, where few drinkers can afford branded spirits.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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