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Govt's booze control: A step in the right spirit?

May 01, 2008 07:28 AM IST Politics Politics
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A new national alcohol policy is on the anvil. Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has declared alcoholism a grave health concern and has asked even the IPL to not go in for surrogate promotion of liquor during their matches. That raised the question – should the Government be restricting alcohol consumption? Debating the point on CNN-IBN’s show Face the Nation were writer Tushar Gandhi and ad guru Alyque Padamsee. Tackling alcoholism is not a bad cause to espouse but could that really change the ground reality? Article 47 of the Indian Constitution states “Government shall endeavour to bring about the prohibition of the consumption – except for medical purposes – of intoxicating drinks.” Alcohol sales are state subjects in our country. Everyone looks upon them as a golden goose which must be exploited to the hilt. The combined earning of State from alcohol were almost Rs 30,000 crore in 2006-2007, amounting to nearly 11.5 per cent of the tax revenue. Liquor was also the second largest contributor to the state’s aggregate revenue kitty after sales tax. The nation relies on alcohol revenue. Karnataka is the leader of excise collection with Rs 4,040 crores while UP brings in Rs 3,650 crore and Andhra Pradesh Rs 3,250 crore. Even Gujarat, with its prohibition policy brings in Rs 50 crore. Government goes off-track The Government’s attempt to determine how much should be drunk by whom was viewed with disfavour by Alyque Padamsee, who raised the point of logistics. “I’d like to know how the Government is going to implement this policy even if the policy comes into force. How are you going to restrict the amount of alcohol someone takes in when you’re drinking in a bar?” he enquired. Padamsee pointed out that restricting your drinks to even two would depend on the nature of the drinks. “And when you’re not in a bar, you’re drinking somewhere else, you’re just pouring your own liquor. Who is going to be able to implement that kind of law there?” he pointed out. Tushar Gandhi, who is also Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, pointed out that legislated prohibition had not worked anywhere and called this a “futile exercise”. “What the Government should be doing is educating people about the dangers of uninhibited consumption of alcohol and its after-effects. Its role should be that of an educator and not as a policeman,” he proposed. Gandhi pointed out that even in Gujarat, prohibition is a farce. “I don’t think the Government should waste their time on such things,” he stated. The fact is that in the country people somehow haven’t been responsible enough when it comes to the question of dealing with drinking responsibly. The Government can do worse than stepping in, given the fact that people are not doing it themselves. Padamsee did not buy that argument and called it ridiculous and presented a sarcastic analogy: “Government can decide to step in and say, ‘Look, AIDS epidemic in this country is terrible. We’re going to step in and ban sex!’” he snapped. “Why don’t they think of alternatives? Why don’t they think of motivation? I entirely believe that you have got to motivate people, to educate them. It’s no good passing laws! Dowry law was passed centuries ago and still dowry is taken,” he said, and offered a suggestion that as an alternative, alcohol content could be lowered in all the drinks. PAGE_BREAK Harsh measures for drunken driving A Parliamentary panel recently proposed stringent measures such as sentence of life imprisonment for those nabbed for drunken driving. While Padamsee demurred (“I am not sure about life imprisonment but certainly some kind of punishment is a must”), Tushar commented that serial offenders should certainly be locked up. Government’s see-saw stance on booze The Government’s stance seems to be only moralistic and redolent with contradiction because on the one hand there are several states like Gujarat and Haryana – Gujarat which continues to be dry, but Haryana which was dry in the past – complaining that they are losing out on sources of revenue generation; on the other, the Health Minister says we need to curb the alcohol consumption in the country. Tushar said that Ramadoss’s sentiment is laudable but it is also very hollow because of the dependence of the Government on revenues from the sale of alcohol, “Not only the fancy stuff; if you look at the country liquor sales, which really affect the society and the fabric of the poor in our country and their family fabric – nothing is done about that,” he stated. Save our children Given the fact that the drinking age has come down from 25 to 19 years, laws should be implemented in a better way so that children or teenagers are kept from taking to drink. Tushar agreed that that was where the Government needed to step in. “Teenagers and minors abusing alcohol must be taken up as a serious threat to our society. Parents and suppliers both must be punished for this because it’s the negligence and indulgence of the parents and the greed of the suppliers which is ending up ruining potentially promising generation,” he said. Padamsee added that the Government should confine its energies to motivating and educating the masses instead of laying down laws and instructing. “Alcohol is an indulgence and an enjoyment,” he concluded. Final results of Web/SMS Poll: Alcohol policy: Should the Government be restricting alcohol consumption? Yes: 31 per cent No: 69 per cent