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West Bengal hooch deaths rise to 171, official suspended

The death count in West Bengal's hooch tragedy rose to 171 as more succumbed to the moonshine they had consumed. Around 90 people are battling for their lives. "So far 171 people have died," a health department official said.

Three days after one of India's worst hooch tragedies began claiming lives, the government suspended Rajeshwar Pandey, an excise officer in charge of Diamond Harbour range, for "not conducting raids properly" against illegal liquor dens.

This was announced by South 24 Parganas district magistrate N.S. Nigam. Abhijit Haldar has replaced Pandey. Police nabbed two more people suspected to have sold the illicit liquor, taking the total number of arrests to 12, said Nigam.

The fresh arrests were made from near Sangrampur village although the prime suspects - Kalu Siraj, Badshah Khokon alias Khora Badshah and Bakka, all known bootleggers -- remained elusive.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has ordered a CID probe into the tragedy, the worst in West Bengal. The victims in Sangrampur, 50 km from Kolkata, were mostly masons, small farmers, labourers and hawkers.

They had Tuesday night visited illegal liquor dens near Sangrampur railway station. The victims started throwing up and collapsing soon after. The liqour that was mixed with a toxic chemical that is not been identified.

Meanwhile, people in cities, towns and villages teamed up with police to demolish liquor dens in various parts of West Bengal. This is the second manmade disaster to strike the state in less than a week. A week ago, a huge fire tragedy killed 93 people in a south Kolkata's AMRI hospital.

In Kolkata, for the second day running, West Bengal Industries Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Partha Chatterjee accused the CPI-M of hatching the "hooch conspiracy" to save their "trader friends' - AMRI hospital authorities - and to deflect attention from the fire incident.

"The government will go as far as is needed to nail the culprits," he said. Chatterjee's party colleagues union ministers Mukul Roy and Sudip Bandopadhyay repeated the charge in New Delhi. Marxist leader Suryakanta Mishra dubbed the comments "irresponsible" and called them canards aimed at maligning his party.

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