On the one hand, thousands of crores of rupees are being spent on welfare schemes for the poor but on the other their lives are being ruined by liquor shops that have come up in every nook and corner.

“The average age at which youth were picking up the habit was 16 years and now it has dropped to 14 and if the present trend of belt shops (unlicensed shops) continues, the day may not be far off when boys of 12 years or even less take to the bottle,” says Shirin Rahman, president of Chaitanya Sravanthi, a Visakhapatnam-based NGO working for the rights of the poor slum dwellers.

Alcoholism ruins families and contributes to the breakdown of the social fabric of society.

It often leads to domestic violence, families falling into a debt trap, suicide by young wives, school dropouts and lack of security to teenage girls due to alcoholic fathers.

The loss of productivity due to absenteeism, accidents at work, loss of skills and job are a great loss to the nation.

Wine merchants, in their bid to make a fast buck, pay huge sums to obtain licence. “Some of them encourage the opening of belt shops to off-load a part of their stock. These unlicensed dealers sell the stocks through convenient points to select customers and during odd hours,” according to sources.

Thanks to the High Court taking a serious view of the writ petition filed by Chaitanya Sravanthi, the belt shops are once again in focus.

“We have been working on creating health awareness among slum dwellers and for women empowerment. We have selected 300 families of our Self Help Group (SHG) members for the study. There are a number of wine shops in the city that are located next to schools and temples,” says Dr. Shirin Rahman, who is also a medical practitioner.

The study found that men were blowing up 75 per cent of their income on liquor.

The easy accessibility of liquor and flouting of guidelines by the dealers like allowing customers to drink at the shops was also contributing to alcoholism.

Not satisfied with the casual nature of the counter-affidavit filed by the Excise Department, the High Court, on October 31, had directed it to file a fresh counter within two weeks.

It's high time the ‘belt shops' were reined in by the government.

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