Prof Mithilesh Kumar Sinha
Nagaland University, Lumami
Alcoholism is one of the reasons for continued poverty despite decades of developmental efforts. It is an unmitigated evil and the root cause of many other social evils. The long queues in front of liquor outlet in the different parts of country are indeed a serious concern. The tacit support extended by the political fraternity and, by extension, the government machinery is equally worrisome. The States are systematically destroying families for monetary gains. It is ironical that on the one hand, the States manufacture and vend alcohol and, on the other, offer health insurance cover.
Filling the coffers, not employment generation, seems to be the driving force behind the government’s policy. Governments cite revenue loss as a major impediment to total prohibition. And they argue that they run the business to generate revenue for welfare measures. Liquor brings in crores of rupees to the treasury. Excise on retail liquor adds to the State’s coffers. Issuing of licences for bars fills up the personal coffers of local administrators. Besides, intermittent appeasements are doled out to officials in various departments by retailers and bars to keep the business running. Governments justify their patronage to the alcohol industry by saying it generates revenue and provides employment opportunities.
Drinking changes the behavioural pattern of the working classes and brings down the quality of production. It also ruins their families and comes in the way of educating their children. The quality of population is important in human resource development. It is painful to see that smoking, along with drinking, has caught the fancy of teenagers. If this menace becomes a national hobby, it will halt the human resource development.
The burden of drinking menace is borne by the women belonging to the poor sections. They are forced to render hard labour to compensate for the non-availability of men’s income. Most often, their hard-earned money, too, is snatched away by their men folk for liquor.
The States are responsible for the welfare of society, and no welfare measure can be complete without addressing the problem of alcoholism. If the governments really have the requisite political will, prohibition can be implemented and alternative sources of revenue worked out. Governments must realise that they are abdicating their moral responsibility for filling their coffers. Governments should ban the production of alcohol if they consider the elimination of poverty and bankruptcy an act of patriotism. As a first step, the governments should reduce the working hours of retail liquor outlets and announce dry days before and after any religious festival so that people can spend more on their families.
But the key question that needs to be answered is –will prohibition reduce alcohol consumption? Despite the best efforts of Governments, prohibition –related offences-particularly illicit distillation, bootlegging, arrack and hooch tragedies- are bound to occur, and this is where public commitment, participation and vigilance are called for. For example, Bihar, Nagaland and other states that are dry-states. A law will not weed out the problem; nor will the declaration of dry days. A better way to address the address the problem would be through a combination of laws and government initiated programmes, awareness campaigns, rehabilitation programmes and so on.