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West Bengal hooch deaths rise to 167

More people continued to die in West Bengal after consuming spurious liquor with the toll mounting to 167 Friday afternoon. Nearly 100 people were battling for their lives in hospital.

"So far, 167 people have died. Around 90 people are still in hospital," a health department official said.

Three days after one of India's worst hooch tragedies came to light, the state government suspended the Excise officer-in-charge of Diamond Harbour range, Rajeshwar Pandey, for allegedly "not conducting raids properly" against illegal liquor dens, said South 24 Parganas district magistrate N.S. Nigam. Abhijit Haldar has replaced Pandey.

Police, which have been conducting joint raids with Criminal Investigation Department sleuths and excise officials, nabbed two more people, taking the total number of arrests to 12, said Nigam.

The fresh arrests were made from near Sangrampur village, though 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 worst liquor tragedy in West Bengal.

The liquor tragedy victims in Sangrampur, 50 km from Kolkata in South 24 Parganas district, were mostly masons, small farmers, labourers and hawkers.

The victims had Tuesday night visited some illegal liquor dens near Sangrampur railway station in the village. Sangrampur falls under the Diamond Harbour sub-divisional headquarter.

The victims started throwing up and collapsing soon after they consumed the liqour, that was mixed with a toxic chemical that has not yet been identified.

This is the second manmade disaster to strike the state in less than a week. Last Friday, a huge fire tragedy killed 93 people in a south Kolkata's AMRI hospital.

Earlier in 1992, over 200 people had died in Orissa after consuming spurious liquor. In 2009, a similar incident in Gujarat left 136 dead.

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