The death toll from suspected liquor poisoning in Punjab rose to 86 on Saturday as police launched a crackdown in response.

The victims, mostly poor farmers and workers, fell ill after drinking the alcohol across three districts on Wednesday.

The first deaths were reported later that day.

Twenty-one people died by Friday evening and 65 more died in the past 24 hours.

Forty-seven died in Tarn Taran district so far, senior official Kulwant Singh said.

Thirty-nine more deaths were reported from nearby Amritsar and Batala, media reports said.

"The doctors have said they have died of poisoning and the victims had consumed tainted alcohol, but the autopsy tests are still awaited to confirm exact cause of death," Singh said.

A dozen people including owners of local brewing units and bootleggers connected with the illicit trade have been arrested as police launched a crackdown and authorities ordered a probe.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said on Friday "anyone found guilty will not be spared".

The chief minister also ordered the suspension of seven excise and taxation officers and inspectors, along with six police officers.

He also announced Rs200,000 as compensation to each of the families of the deceased.

Strict action will be taken against any public servant or others if found complicit in the case, Singh said, describing the police and Excise Department's failure to check the manufacturing and sale of spurious liquor as shameful.

"Nobody will be allowed to get away with feeding poison to our people," he added.

The chief minister warned those indulging in spurious liquor business to stop immediately or face grave consequences.

Singh urged the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal not to politicise the tragedy, adding such cases had happened earlier too, including under the SAD-Bharatiya Janata Party government.

The Indian Express newspaper said one of the suspects had died in Amritsar after consuming the illegal liquor and that his wife had been arrested for selling the alcohol.

The case came after authorities in Andhra Pradesh said on Friday that nine people had died after drinking alcohol-based sanitiser.

The victims drank the sanitiser as a substitute for alcohol which has been restricted during a coronavirus lockdown in India.

The illegal liquor trade thrives in India because it is much cheaper than commercially produced alcohol.

Last year, 151 people, mostly tea-plantation workers, died after drinking toxic alcohol in one of the country's worst liquor poisonings in recent years.

An average of 1,000 people, most of them poor, die in India each year after consuming illegally brewed alcohol, government data shows.

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