A huge jump in alcohol consumption is fuelling a popular speculation that beneficiaries of Public Distribution System (PDS) in Chhattisgarh are selling the subsidized food grain to buy alcohol. The State’s liquor revenue has jumped by a whopping 90% in last two years and the politicians have started blaming subsidized food policy for the rise in consumption of alcohol.

Initiating a debate, BJP’s tribal MP Nandkumar Sai has said that people are “using food grain to buy alcohol.” Chief Minister Raman Singh has also not denied that alcohol consumption is on the rise. “Such things (alcohol consumption) will increase as the economy grows,” he said while talking to journalists, few weeks back.

In 2013-14, Chhattisgarh has earned Rs. 1,900 crore from liquor sales, nearly Rs. 500 crore more than the revenue earned in the previous year. The State earned Rs. 1,000 crore in 2011-12. Effectively in last two financial years, the Excise Department has earned nearly Rs. 900 crore, almost doubling the State’s earning from liquor sales. In the same period revenue of the States like Orissa or Madhya Pradesh, has grown at half the pace or even less. Interestingly, Chhattisgarh’s population is half or one-third of the neighbouring States.

In fact, the earning from liquor sales is almost entirely going to subsidize the food programme. While the State earns Rs. 1,900 crore as Excise duty, it is going to spend Rs. 2,200 crore to implement the Food Security Act. “While it may not be exactly the liquor money getting spent as food subsidy, I agree that the tax and the subsidy are matching each other,” said a senior bureaucrat.

BJP’s tribal leaders’ are quite displeased with the State government’s policy of distributing free food. They feel the policy will “make tribal people dysfunctional.” Some of them, like Nandkumar Sai, four times’ MP of BJP, is a staunch opponent of government’s food policy.

“…this policy of subsidized food grain distribution, which even Union government is following now, is actually making people dysfunctional. They will not be able to work at all and will use the food grain to buy alcohol, which exactly what they are doing. How long will you provide them with food grain – 10, 20, 50 years? By that time the generation will disappear by not working. How are you making the tribals more educated, industrious and self-sufficient by giving free food,” asked Mr Sai, a staunch political rival of the Chief Minister.

The government also acknowledge that drinking is more than a serious problem in Chhattisgarh, so periodically anti-liquor campaigns are organized by various departments, albeit perfunctorily. In a more direct action, the government has shut down 354 shops in rural areas in last three years, which substantially reduced Excise duty.

Chief Minister Raman Singh did not deny that alcohol consumption is on the rise but blames “economic growth.”

“We are witnessing an eight percent growth over last eight years. When money flows in, (people) will watch movies, buy coolers or air conditioners, spend on clothes or motorcycle. Such things (alcohol consumption) will increase as the economy grows and this is what we need,” Mr Singh said.

Santu Modak, a construction worker from Pakhanjore based at State capital said that his earning has doubled over last few years and in the same period the cost of living has gone up several times.

“So the condition of workers like us – who are on short term contractual jobs – has deteriorated. We do not have the money to buy booze, so most of us are selling a portion of the food grain to buy liquor,” he said.

Excise department’s officers believe, at the present rate of growth the new State will overtake the big excise earning States of south and west in another decade.