There are no two opinions that the state indirectly pays a heavy cost due to illnesses, loss of productivity, death and crimes caused by liquor consumption. This is far more than the so-called revenue from taxing liquor.

The injurious effects of alcoholism from the medical point of view were clearly brought out by Dr.Araveeti Ramayogaiah (Open Page, February 6.) Let me supplement this article with a few real life cases, about which I have personal knowledge.

Story 1 involves a horrible rail collision claiming 28 lives and seriously injuring 35 people, apart from minor injuries to several others. It was a collision between a stationary train waiting to leave a station and a goods train, which came speeding onto it. The reason for the tragedy was immediately apparent. The driver of the freight train had ignored the danger signal and drove at full speed under the influence of liquor. He was injured and in hospital it was ascertained that he had enough alcohol in his blood to make him almost unconscious.

I happened to be one of the officers involved in the relief operations, and untangling the coaches and retrieving the mangled bodies is a horror I will never forget.

Excessive fondness

Story 2 concerns a senior Central government executive, a very intelligent, hard working officer with a bright, vivacious wife and three brilliant children. Life should have been a bed of roses for them, but it wasn't. He was given to an excessive fondness for the bottle which caused utter misery all round. His family and his large circle of friends did try their utmost to steer him out of this situation which was even threatening his career. After extensive counselling by professionals and medical treatment, he appeared to have got over the problem only to relapse suddenly into his old ways. Almost everyone despaired that he would ever mend. But then he was transferred to a State which had prohibition. Ever since, it had been a complete transformation for him and when the time came for retirement he took the wise decision to settle down there itself, even though he was from a State which was far away from his present place of posting. Unfortunately, that State also succumbed to the liquor lobby and scrapped prohibition. Our friend was back to square one.

I am sure almost everyone has come across instances of lives ruined by drinking, though perhaps not one as tragic as the one related above. I have been to many “wet” parties and seen perfectly sensible normal people becoming clowns after a few drinks, sometimes with bizarre results. Nearly every week there is a report of a traffic accident involving “d.u.i.” (driving under the influence) as it is called in the U.S. Yet no government has had the political courage to put an end to this scourge. There are no two opinions that the state indirectly pays a heavy cost due to illnesses, loss of productivity, death and crimes caused by liquor consumption, which is far more than the so-called revenue from taxing liquor. If the States are willing to prevent people from devastating their lives by consumption of drugs, why is alcohol consumption not treated with the same seriousness? The loss of revenue to the state is only illusory, because the money thus saved by the people will have to find its way either as savings, or expenditure on other essential and useful items, from which governments earn by way of taxes.

The excuse

The excuse is often trotted out that bootlegging and corruption will only increase, and making something illegal will not bring down alcohol addiction. Even so, the very fact that alcohol is not something that you can buy like a cup of coffee will bring down the consumption. After all, had a liquor shop not been there in close proximity of the station where that goods train stopped earlier, the lives of 28 people would have been saved. The greatest benefit is that the younger generation will at least grow up without the taste of liquor. For the full benefits to manifest themselves, countrywide prohibition must be imposed at least for 25 years.

Maybe, I sound like a nut, but I have great company, Mahatma Gandhi, Rajagopalachari, just to name two.

(The writer's email is raghavnk@rediffmail.com)

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