Canning/Kolkata: With over 70 people dying in three hospitals after consuming toxic liquor, the death toll in the hooch tragedy in West Bengal's South 24 Parganas district on Thursday climbed to 131 as police arrested seven persons and the government ordered a CID inquiry.

Authorities fear that the toll would rise further as at least 50 people are in a critical state after consuming the spurious liquor on Wednesday.

"The hooch toll has risen to 131 and over 100 are still in three different hospitals, many of whom are still battling for life," South 24-Parganas district Chief Medical Officer (Health) Shikha Adhikari told reporters at Diamond Harbour.

The CMO (H) said that condition of at least 50 was still critical.

She said that of 327 victims admitted to Diamond Harbour sub-divisional hospital, 36 were declared brought dead, 70 later died and 56 were referred to state-run M R Bangur hospital in Kolkata.

Nineteen of the 56 victims died in M R Bangur hospital while six died in National Medical College and Hospital, she said.

The victims were mostly labourers, rickshaw-pullers and hawkers. They fell ill hours after consuming illicit liquor from different joints around Sangrampur, near here, since on Wednesday morning.

"Many are still battling for life in the three hospitals after consuming spurious liquor'," the CMO(H) said.

Announcing a CID inquiry into the hooch tragedy in the state Assembly, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said seven persons had been arrested on the basis of preliminary administrative enquiry into the incident. The Chief Minister said something toxic was mixed in the liquor and the owner of the liquor den Badshah Khokon, named in the FIR, was absconding.

Observing that trade in illicit liquor has been going on for a long time in the state and it is a social problem, the Chief Minister said an all-party decision must be taken on the steps required to end the menace of illicit liquor.

Banerjee said the state government would help traders if they switched over to other businesses like setting up tea or fruit stalls. Diamond Harbour and M R Bangur hospitals were teeming with hundreds of relatives of the victims and doctors attending to patients. To deal with the situation, the state health department has cancelled leave of all the doctors and para-medical staff.

The victims mostly complained of stomach pain, vomiting, chest pain and bodyache, doctors said.

Medical teams were rushed to Diamond Harbour sub-divisional hospital to assist the doctors there, state minster for Sunderbans development Shyamal Mondal said.

Banerjee said the government could have legalised the business and earned revenue for the cash-strapped exchequer, but would not do it. "Character cannot be bought with money," she said.

The zila parishad has granted Rs 10,000 to each affected family for the funeral rites, Adhikary said adding that post mortem was done on 100 bodies.

(Agencies)