Indian police have launched a crackdown on illegal bootleggers after 80 people were killed drinking toxic alcohol in the country’s north.

India has long grappled with the problem of fake or illegal alcohol, which is affordable and readily available for many impoverished people.

Bootleg alcohol deaths hit India’s poor hardest

Police believe the deaths occurred when victims across two neighbouring states drank from the same batch of illegal home-made brew, which was produced by a criminal group operating between Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

According to district officials, the majority of the deaths were reported in Uttar Pradesh, with 36 dying in Saharanpur district and eight in Kushinagar.

Reports say police have arrested two suspects accused of selling the illicit liquor.

“The investigation into the poisonous liquor is ongoing and eight people, including the two sellers, have been arrested”, police spokesperson Shalin Sharma said.

About 400 litres of illicit booze was seized during joint operations by police in both states.

Police said the criminal group conducted its operations out of villages hidden in the forests, where the toxic drinks were mixed.

Deaths from cheap, illegally brewed liquor often containing toxic methanol are common in India.

The alcohol is typically brewed in villages before being smuggled into cities, where it sells for about 10 cents a glass, which is about a third the price of legally brewed liquor.

 According to SafeProof, a group which lobbies against counterfeit alcohol, illegal liquor can be deadly when other liquids like rubbing alcohol or methanol are added to the distilled spirit, enabling sellers to increase the amount of liquid and its potential potency.

Methanol can make people feel intoxicated, but even a very small amount can be toxic.

Methanol poisoning can cause confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches and the inability to coordinate muscle movements.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention it can prompt nausea, vomiting and heart or respiratory failure.