The Indian state plans to launch cheap whiskey on the market to prevent deaths from illegal alcohol

The northern Indian state of Punjab is planning to launch a cheap brand of locally produced alcohol to discourage some drinkers from unsafe, counterfeit whiskey.

Prime Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann’s government recently told the Supreme Court that “it wants to offer people a cheap range of rural spirits” as a healthier substitute for home-made whisky, according to Times Now.

This was revealed by the Excise and Taxes Agency of the Aam Aadmi party-ruled state in an affidavit, the news organization said. In the same hearing, senior attorney Ajit Sinha told the court that police had also stepped up intelligence at the local level to track down and destroy illegal liquor manufacturing units, according to the report.

At least 39 people died and several others were hospitalized after consuming counterfeit liquor in mid-December in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, where the sale and consumption of alcohol has now been banned for six years.

Most of the victims, some of whom had been ill for days, were pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital in Chhapra in Bihar. The district administration formed teams to visit the affected villages and meet the families to track down the seller.

Fake alcohol has claimed the lives of up to 5,900 people between 2017 and 2021, the reported strait times, Adding that Punjab was responsible for 780 of those deaths.

It was further reported that the drink, which is produced in authorized distilleries and is expected to be available on the market by March 2023, will have an alcohol content of 40 percent.

Each 180ml sachet of this spirit costs around Rs 25 (£0.25) by comparison. A liter of potentially deadly hooch costs about 100 rupees (1 pound), the news report said.

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

At least 104 of drinking adulterated alcohol in 2020. The toll in such cases often increases as families hesitate to seek medical help for fear of legal prosecution.

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

The sale and consumption of alcohol is banned in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, where only those with a government-issued permit are allowed to consume spirits.

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

(With input from Reuters)

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