The ‘hooch tragedy’ shows the proclivity of people to consume alcohol either in the form of hand sanitizer in Andhra Pradesh or toxic methanol in Punjab that was lethal enough to take the lives of more than 100 people. This comes as an irony in a state which is already under the tyranny of drug abuse for a long time.
Moreover, India’s moonshine market wreaks tremendous destruction in the form of blindness, kidney failure, tissue damage and death as the commercial alcohol becomes expensive and elusive for the less affluent and the tipplers end up consuming spirit, sanitizer, and hooch, completely ignorant of the consequences. In addition to the hardships faced due to the ubiquitous COVID-19, people are not ready to stay fine fettle at their homes but rather are finding new ways to end their lives.
In the tug-of-war between the states and Central government for cash to fight the coronavirus outbreak, liquor became the latest battleground. A well-known teetotaler, Modi banned alcohol sales during the country’s national lockdown to contain the virus, blocking a crucial source of direct tax income for the states.
The loss of liquor tax revenues — an estimated Rs 700 crore a day prompted calls from states like Punjab to lift the ban.
In mid-April, Amarinder Singh, Punjab’s chief minister from the opposition Congress party, said “Liquor is a major source of revenue for all states. How will I make up for that? Will the people in Delhi give it to me? They don’t even give Re 1.”
Paradoxically, now he is shouting in his highest pitch that the cahoots will not be spared in the hooch deaths. Liquor sale in Punjab started on May 7, 2020, in the form of standard and sub-standard brews like spirits, hooch, and methanol freely given and this combined with the eagerness of people to consume alcohol in any form has caused this misery. Why didn’t anyone suggest the Punjab government to follow the example of the states, following a complete or partial ban on alcohol?
Well, he may be quick to answer, “The shoes don’t fit”, and how he can ever imagine walking on that path. A few years ago the then Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal was quick to file a PIL in the Supreme Court against the cultivation and sale of poppy husk in Madhya Pradesh but he nor any other Punjab leader has ever raised a voice against the rising level of alcoholism in Punjab hitherto.
Alcohol is a subject in the State List under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India. Therefore, the laws governing alcohol vary from state to state. In spite of legal restrictions and declaring a few states as dry states last year, alcohol consumption in India has risen over 72.5% over a period of 20 years (according to OECD figures), as the laws are generally not followed.
The WHO study on alcohol does not include high spirits. Indians have been drinking more in the past decade, as the country’s per capita alcohol consumption has increased fourfold since 2005.
Banning alcohol and declaring a few states as dry states namely Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, and Nagaland, and the union territory of Lakshadweep has cut no ice on the sale of alcohol. Yes, this compulsion has been met with resistance.
Truckloads of liquor are smuggled in from the neighboring states. An army of bootleggers divvy up the big cases and ensure the distribution. It is not hard to see why bootleggers flourish. Many tipplers cannot afford the so-called Indian Made Foreign Liquor. Hooch, of course, is cheaper. One has to shell out only 10-20 rupees for a 200 ml pouch of transparent concoction.
Lately, the State party chief of AAP, Mr. Mann alleged, “While the mafia is openly selling poison, the government continues to be in slumber. The mafia is enjoying the patronage of the government.”
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh flayed the opposition as the State police have nabbed Ludhiana-based businessman Rajeev Joshi who supplied 3 drums of methanol to prepare spurious liquor. But the real solace sought by the public would be met only by the controlled use of alcohol, a revamping of the excise administration on a high priority basis, reducing corruption in bureaucracies that give way to illicit traders, and ending the flow of toxic brews that kill scores of people almost every year.