Good in principle, tough to practise

The ill-effects of indiscriminate liquor consumption on standards of living and public health are well-known. It is for this reason that the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution require the state to endeavour to bring about prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs except those for medicinal purposes. After the decision of the Kerala government to close down bars other than those in five-star hotels and to introduce prohibition in a phased manner, political parties in Tamil Nadu are increasingly talking of pushing for a ban on liquor if they come to power. The >Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has now joined the >Pattali Makkal Katchi in campaigning for a ban, with its president M. Karunanidhi promising total prohibition if voted to power. Actually, it was Mr. Karunanidhi who in 1971 >withdrew prohibition in Tamil Nadu, going back on the policy formulated by DMK founder and former Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai. At that time, his argument was that prohibition cannot work in isolation. Although Kerala has taken a huge step toward restricting consumption, Tamil Nadu is by no means surrounded by liquor-free States. For instance, Puducherry, not far from Chennai, is known as a tippler’s paradise. Moreover, the State’s finances are shored up by revenue from liquor sales. Many of the government’s freebie schemes actually run on revenues from duties and taxes levied on liquor. Also, political functionaries at the lower levels of the hierarchy benefit hugely from bootlegging and the sale of illicit liquor during periods of prohibition. While many women’s groups support prohibition, the political will to crack down on illicit liquor will doubtless be weak in such circumstances. Any ban on liquor sales will necessarily have to co-exist with a spurt in bootlegging and illicit distillation.

As a policy, prohibition has met with little success anywhere in India. Even when it has helped bring down overall consumption, prohibition has led to loss of lives in hooch tragedies. The high levels of enforcement required for prohibition result in a severe drain on the State’s finances. Prohibition enforcement agencies often become enmeshed in corruption. Tamil Nadu, like Kerala, has had a history of hooch tragedies. In recent years, with the easy availability of liquor in rural areas, the State has been free of such deaths. Indeed, in 2002 the AIADMK government encouraged manufacturers to introduce cheaper liquor to wean away rural workers from hooch. If history offers any lessons, it will require enormous resources and tremendous political will for prohibition to succeed. So far, political parties have not shown the necessary political will, and governments have been unable to muster the needed resources.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 10:31:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/liquor-prohition-in-tamil-nadu/article7452748.ece

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