Kerala’s challenge

Kerala has moved expeditiously to curb the availability of Indian Made Foreign Liquor and get on to the road to total prohibition. Whether the decision is the outcome of intra-party manoeuvres in the Congress, or of a genuine quest for the public good, it bodes well for the State from the social standpoint. Indeed, the State could serve as a testing ground on this front for the rest of the country. Kerala has one of the highest per capita consumption rates for hard liquor among Indian States, and there is a predominant sentiment against it given its deleterious effects. Yet, there really was no known proclivity, or demand, in favour of prohibition among the two dominant political formations in the State. There has been no organised temperance movement of note in recent times — but for occasional pleas by certain cultural leaders and the Church. The likes of the Gandhian, M.P. Manmadhan, who led an anti-liquor movement, albeit a feeble and largely symbolic one, in the 1970s and 1980s, have been all but forgotten. This background does give a certain unreal quality to the sudden decision. However, the fact that shutting out liquor could bring significant electoral dividends, given the large constituency of voters, including women, who are affected by and feel strongly against it, would not have been lost on Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. This will also staunch the flow of money from liquor contractors into the kitty of political parties, come election-time.

It remains to be seen if the government is able to sustain the decision in the face of the loss of revenue and expected opposition from the powerful lobby that thrives on gains made from the business. A range of political and administrative and even legal challenges lie ahead of it in the implementation of the policy. A principal challenge will come from the loss of excise revenue. Hopefully, the health dividends that will accrue will set off the losses, even if not in the account books in the short term. The enforcement challenges in terms of stopping bootlegging and smuggling from neighbouring States, and the whole business going underground, will be stiff. The oft-heard argument that curtailing availability seldom serves the purpose, does not take into account the fact that a significant segment of new drinkers would be dissuaded by the curbs. The government should meanwhile come clean on the question of toddy as well; its continued sale would surely contradict the declared policy. Livelihood issues of toddy-tappers should be addressed. Measures for the rehabilitation of large numbers of alcohol-addicts will be no mean task. It will become clear soon if the Kerala experiment is sustainable, given its impact on the exchequer and given the problems of enforcement as well.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 5:57:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-keralas-challenge/article6357469.ece

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