Tamil Nadu alcohol problem

Booze And Politics: Tamil Nadu In The Fray Again

With the ‘election fervour’ extending its sway over Tamil Nadu, the political parties have resumed the game of offering baits to the naive voters. Hollow promises have been a hallmark of Indian elections. Every five years, the politicians vie to throw the most lucrative baits to seize power. Usually whoever throws the best one, wins. The scenario is a bit different in Tamil Nadu this year. Anguished over the ill-effects of liquor on common man’s life, the electorate has pitched a strong demand for liquor ban, thereby seeking a dry state like Gujarat. “All obey the might”, as the cliche’ goes, all political parties have complied with the demand.

Whilst all political parties have agreed upon this demand and have been fiercely fighting to persuade the electorate of the authenticity of their promises; can the people be sure that this promise stands on the pedestals of implementation tactics and theoretical research? Or is just the repercussion of public anger? This article seeks to loosen these threads for the electorate.

With AIADMK supremo and Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa making promises of phased prohibition, Tamil Nadu needs to ensure some requisites before finalising any prohibition order. The problems that may act as a hindrance to this promise being fulfilled are:

Health Problems

One might wonder how a ban on Alcohol, intended to increase the health standards of the people ends up working the contrary. The answer to that lies with every addict-turned-sober man. Leaving alcohol suddenly is as dangerous as consuming excessive amount of it. Bihar’s attempt to ban liquor substantiates the fact. Post regulation, out of the many alcoholics who complained of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, three lay on their death beds. State government records also show that nearly 200 alcoholic patients have been admitted to government hospitals, and 1,300 been treated without admission since April 1.

As classified by the International Classification of Diseases, alcoholism is a psychiatric disorder. The fact is endorsed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Citing the case of Bihar, Dr. Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist based in Mumbai said, “Stopping the sale of alcohol is the same as stopping the sale of hypertensives or anti-diabetic drugs. The government should have consulted health professionals before taking this step.” What makes one wonder here is, has Tamil political parties learned from this bitter experience of Bihar? Or has the eternal drool for power has, as always, blinded them?

There are a variety of issues, Dr. Shetty drew media’s attention to:

First, a total ban was wrong in principle to begin with. According to him, the government should give the state’s medical service providers at least six months notice on its move to ban all alcohol. This period facilitates the medical department to equip itself for the challenges that lay ahead. Also, a partial ban can be imposed during this tenure.

Second, the medical department of various states in India has an acute shortage of medical staff. Numerous RTI reports have highlighted dearth of doctors at various government hospitals. People’s watch, an NGO reported  that against the sanctioned strength of 189 only 133 doctors were working at Cuddalore Government Hospital, which was visited by 12,000 outpatients every day. With such a medical shortage, how does Tamil Nadu prepare itself for any medical emergency that may arise?

Mounted on these problems is the mist that surrounds the implementation tactics of various political parties. For instance, one of the front-runners for the top job – DMK Chief M. Karunanidhi promises,“I won’t say we will enforce prohibition in stages. We will just do it.” Many of them seem have nodded their heads bowing to popular demands just like cute dolls.

Though, Amma’s plan for a phased prohibition looks a bit more affirming than his arch-rival and DMK chief Karunanidhi’s; what she has learned from the state of Bihar and how she plans to tackle the dearth of medical support, only time shall tell.

Revenue Problems

“If there is so much anguish, so much trouble with alcohol, why is it not banned already? Why did DMK relax the ban, partially imposed by the Congress government? Why did Amma not ban it last year when her party arrested a social activist (Kovan) for voicing dissent against it?”, asks every common man.

One word for that: MONEY. 

Being one of the leading states in alcohol consumption, the state of Tamil Nadu recorded the highest number of deaths (1599) related to spurious liquor in the last decade, states a study. Despite such pathetic conditions, the governments have overlooked it. Thanks to the whopping 27% revenue generated by the sale of alcohol in the state which includes an excise revenue of Rs 12,125.31 crore and sales tax of Rs 9,555.36 crore!!
Tamil Nadu alcohol revenue
The coveted development model which AIADMK supremo rides high on, is powered massively by woes of the victims of the addicted and their family. This outrage is just a tip of the iceberg. The burgeoning per capita debt, also the highest in India completes the whole of it.
The fear of a major drop in the economy of the state has kept all political parties from allowing a total prohibition. The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation, or Tasmac, owned by the state government has exclusive rights of selling wholesale and retail alcoholic beverages in Tamil Nadu, and generates over Rs.25,000 crore of annual revenue.
Whether or not the political parties have figured out alternative sources to compensate this loss is quite clear. A feat not achieved in so many years, could not have been achieved out of blue moon.
Also, a total ban would leave the liquor shop employees jobless. Uncertainty looms for the 28,000-odd Tasmac employees across the state. While Jayalalithaa has spoken about reducing working hours, closing down outlets in phases and opening rehabilitation centres, the DMK has promised alternative jobs for Tasmac workers and de-addiction facilities.

Conclusion

Whilst the project sounds ambitious and we understand ideas don’t burden pockets, their implementation certainly does. With no alternative source of revenue to compensate a huge loss and already a deficit in medical staff, how does DMK promise alternate jobs with promising earning bounces off the head.

A mountain of problems on the common man’s spine and political parties offering lucrative baits. This is how I see these electoral promises. The menace of alcohol shall take a lot of time to be curbed. All political parties know it, but they would rather delude the electorate with false promises than seek ways to fulfill them.

“No one has a clear plan.”, sighs a voter.

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