Feb. 9 (UPI) -- At least 77 people have died after drinking illegally brewed liquor that contained methanol in several villages in northern India, officials said.
Medical personnel expect the number of deaths could rise, as two dozen people are treated in hospitals.
Because lower-income Indians are unable to afford legal alcohol in rural areas, they purchase alcohol that is brewed improperly and turns poisonous, the Hindustan Times reported.
The first deaths in the latest incidents were reported Thursday.
By late Saturday, the death toll was 37 in Western Uttar Pradesh's Saharanpur district, 11 from eastern UP's Kushinagar and 31 in Uttarkhand.
Saharanpur police said the liquor was first consumed in neighboring Uttarakhand where villagers from Saharanpur has gone to attend a funeral. It also was smuggled back to the Saharanpur district by a villager who then sold it to others, police said.
The Kushinagar government said the liquor could have originated in Bihar, where any alcohol is prohibited.
"We will catch everyone involved, either this side of the border or that side," Saharanpur Superintendent of Police Dinesh Kumar said in an NDTV report. "This will be an ongoing operation. We cannot deny the deaths but we will clamp down, we have been applying pressure on the border areas and we don't know the manufacture of spurious liquor in our areas."
On Saturday, Uttar Pradesh police arrested 175 people and seized 92,697 liters of illicit liquor,
"We won't spare the guilty," UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath told Hindustan Times. "We are focusing on the mastermind."
He is coordinating efforts with his Uttarakhand counterpart, Trivendra Singh Rawat.
Adityanath said they are paying $2,800 to the family of those who died and $700 for people hospitalized.
Adityanath, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader, said the Samajwadi Party might be involved. "In Azamgarh, Hardoi Kanpur and Barabanki, SP leaders were found to be involved in past hooch tragedies. We can't deny a conspiracy this time too."
Between last week and four months after the BJP government came to power in UP in 2017, at least 74 people died after consuming hooch.