Contrary to popular belief, a comparative analysis by a non-government organisation here has revealed that Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and the Union Territory of Chandigarh beat Punjab in per capita consumption of alcohol during the year just gone by. According to the NGO, the average consumption across the region was 12.44 litres as compared to the national average of 0.82 litre.

According to data released by People for Transparency as part of its “Stop under-age drinking” campaign, per capita consumption of alcohol in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Chandigarh during 2008-09 worked out to a heady 16.59 bottles. Information supplied by the respective Excise and Taxation departments of the different administrations indicated that nearly 4.5 crore adults, including women, consumed about 74.46 crore bottles of liquor of different brands during the year.

In Chandigarh alone, the per capita consumption came to a staggering 135.82 bottles even as smuggling and visitors were ignored. The city recorded sales of 65,736,000 bottles of alcohol during 2008-09, indicating a daily consumption of more than a quarter bottle for each adult.

Per capita consumption of alcohol in Haryana was 21.45 bottles despite a negative growth in sales, 14.72 bottles in Delhi, 12.80 bottles in Himachal Pradesh and 11.45 bottles in Punjab.

According to Kamal Anand of the NGO, India being the third largest market for alcoholic beverages has emerged as a favourite playing field for many multinational liquor companies. Clubbed with intense marketing, policy influence and intervention by the large players in the liquor trade, consumption of alcohol in all forms has gone up manifold, he rued.

Public health crusader Hemant Goswami, who worked to get Chandigarh its “first smoke-free city” status, said, “It is not a joke that Chandigarh has a sale of over 1.8 lakh bottles of alcohol every day. The liberalised policy on alcohol sale by the bureaucrats of Chandigarh is responsible for it. Even toy shops in Chandigarh now sell alcohol.”

Both Mr. Anand and Mr. Goswami note that the Excise Act is specific about the minimum age for drinking being 25. Despite that, there were less than 20 cases registered in all the five States in the past ten years for under-age drinking even though one could see youngsters consuming liquor in bars and discos.

“Despite such a specific direction in the Constitution, States ill-managed by politicians and bureaucrats take the excuse of finances and taxes generated by the liquor trade as a pretext to promote consumption of alcohol,” Mr. Anand complained.

“Not only the World Health Organisation but even governments all over the world are streamlining policies related to alcohol so that public health and public interest can supersede commercial interest, but India still seems to be working in the other direction,” he said.