Tamil Nadu

‘Start the process towards prohibition in Tamil Nadu’

K. Balakrishnan, Tamil Nadu secretary of the CPI(M. File

K. Balakrishnan, Tamil Nadu secretary of the CPI(M. File

K. Balakrishnan, Tamil Nadu secretary of the CPI(M), an ally of the ruling DMK, argues that any assessment of the performance of the eight-month-old government should factor in the unusual circumstances in which it entered office and the challenges posed by COVID-19 and heavy rain last year. In an interview, he, however, points out that many employees are engaged on a temporary basis and paid a consolidated sum. This may cause a social crisis. He also demands that the government start the process towards prohibition. Excerpts:

As leader of an ally, how do you evaluate the performance of the DMK government in the last eight months?

The DMK assumed office [in May last] at a challenging time. The State was in the grip of the second wave of COVID-19. It was followed by an unprecedented natural disaster caused by heavy rain and flooding. Now the third wave of COVID-19 poses a challenge. The government has handled the situation well, to some extent. Chief Minister M.K. Stalin is active, and has taken action to address problems. The government has given away relief and other assistance to people, though it is facing a financial crisis. We have to take into account the fact that the Centre is not extending adequate financial assistance to the State to deal with the pandemic and natural disasters. Of course, people feel that they could not get adequate flood relief. Overall, the government has handled the challenges. At the same time, there is a need to launch constructive measures. The Chief Minister’s proactive role has received kudos from people. But today a lot of government employees are on a consolidated and honorary pay. The DMK government is following the same method of recruitment for government jobs as the AIADMK government did. A government cannot afford to keep employees on a consolidated pay with temporary jobs as it will create a social crisis. The DMK government should remain an alternative in all respects.

There is the charge that the DMK, which demanded ₹5,000 a family in COVID-19 relief from the previous AIADMK government, is not ready to distribute a similar amount now...

The AIADMK did not give any money when the State was reeling under the pandemic. It distributed ₹2,500 just before the election. It would have been useful to people had it been given at the time of the pandemic. But the DMK, immediately after coming to power, distributed ₹4,000 in two instalments. It was the time when the second wave was at its peak.

When in the Opposition, parties, including the DMK, demanded the closure of the retail-liquor shops run by TASMAC. But the DMK government has not taken steps for closing them down. How do you see this?

We still demand that liquor shops be closed in phases. There is an opinion that revenue from other sources is dwindling and the revenue generated by the liquor shops is necessary to sustain the government. We cannot accept this argument. Generating revenue by increasing the drinking habit among the citizens is not a good idea. People are not in favour of it either. Whenever the government distributes money to provide relief, it goes back to its coffer through the liquor shops. The government is under compulsion to deal with its financial crisis and the ever-increasing expenditure during the pandemic, but it should not bank on the revenue from the liquor shops. It should consider closing down TASMAC outlets for the welfare of society. It may take time because prohibition does not mean just closure of the liquor shops. The government has to prevent the flow of illicit liquor and bootlegging in the event of prohibition. Drinking habit will not disappear on the day the liquor shops are closed. It is a long process. But the government should start it.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently inaugurated 11 medical colleges in the State. Critics have argued that it is an irony that Mr. Modi was invited when Tamil Nadu is single-handedly fighting against the NEET-based MBBS admissions...

I also felt that there was no need to invite the Prime Minister to inaugurate the medical colleges. The colleges were funded by the State government [and by the Centre]. We could welcome it if the Prime Minister helped to complete the construction of the AIIMS [in Madurai] and inaugurated it. The State government is under no compulsion to invite the Prime Minister to inaugurate the colleges. But the government has taken a decision and we cannot question all its decisions. I do not know whether the State government wants to maintain a cordial relationship with the Centre. The Prime Minister, who inaugurated the buildings, was silent on releasing flood relief to Tamil Nadu. Though the Chief Minister raised the issue of NEET, the Prime Minister did not respond. Tamil Nadu MPs are waiting endlessly to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah to press the State’s case for exemption from NEET. We should also keep in mind that this has been the attitude of the BJP-led government at the Centre.

There is a suggestion that DMK leader and Chief Minister M.K. Stalin should take initiatives to form a national front against the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. What is your stand?

The DMK has an important role. It is a ruling party and has a substantial presence in both Houses of Parliament. The DMK and the Left have the task of bringing together political parties to defeat the BJP. But it is not sure whether a front with a uniform character would emerge at the national level. It may change, depending on the requirement of each State. In Kerala, the Left and the Congress cannot be part of a front. In West Bengal, the Left cannot join hands with the Trinamool Congress. But such a front in the past emerged only after elections. We have to create strong fronts in every State to defeat the BJP. Both the Congress and the Left have a role. Mr. Stalin, as the Chief Minister of a State, should use his influence to achieve the goal.

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Printable version | May 22, 2022 3:53:14 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/start-the-process-towards-prohibition-in-tamil-nadu/article38279818.ece