Hyderabad: The New Year began on a tragic note in Andhra Pradesh with 17 people losing their lives due to illicit liquor in two separate incidents since Saturday, officials said. The toll in the hooch tragedy in Krishna district claimed 16 lives since Saturday evening, while one person died in Nalgonda district Sunday.

Hours before the dawn of the New Year, tragedy struck at Poratanagar in Krishna district of coastal Andhra.

The dead include three women. The victims, belonging to three tribal hamlets, consumed country-made liquor Saturday evening and were rushed to hospital after they complained of giddiness.

Eight people are still battling for life in hospitals at Mylavaram and Vijayawada.

Ten died Saturday night and six since Sunday morning.

Tension prevailed at Vijayawada hospital as relatives of the victims staged a protest when Deputy Excise Commissioner Harvinder Singh visited the hospital. They demanded compensation and also stern action against the culprits.

Doctors at the hospital said the liquor consumed by the victims was apparently mixed with the poisonous methyl alcohol. Samples of the liquor were sent to Hyderabad for chemical analysis.

Police arrested Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader D Umamaheswara Rao early Sunday as he, along with relatives of the victims, sat on a 'dharna' at the excise office at Mylavaram Saturday night, demanding action against the guilty and compensation of Rs.10 lakh each to the families of the victims.

Excise Minister Mopidevi Venkataramana ordered a judicial probe into the incident. He also ordered suspension of a circle inspector and a sub-inspector of Mylavaram's excise department.

In the second incident, one person died and three others were taken ill after consuming arrack at Reddybavi in Choutuppal mandal of Nalgonda district, near Hyderabad.

The victims had consumed the country-made liquor to celebrate the New Year.

Excise officials have arrested a liquor trader in the case.

Meanwhile, leader of opposition and TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu blamed the government's inefficiency for the hooch tragedies.

Addressing a news conference in Hyderabad, he said the government failed to act against the liquor syndicate which allegedly involves several ministers and legislators of the ruling Congress party.

He demanded an all-party meeting on the liquor syndicate, which came to light last month following the raids by Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) on liquor traders in various parts of the state.