The Supreme Court of India passed a welcome verdict recently banning the sale of alcohol within 500 meters of highways around the country. The court took this decision in response to the rising numbers of drunken driving accidents which claim thousands of lives every year.
The irony though is that instead of celebrating this decision, several entrenched lobbies are protesting it by claiming that it will result in loss of jobs and revenues. Whats worse is that several state governments seem to have come under the pressure of the alcohol lobby.
Alcohol: a mass killer
Alcohol is the root of a lot of problems in contemporary society. It drives people into debt, makes them violent and has been the reason for driving several families into poverty.
According to data from the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), in India every 96 minutes a person dies because of liquor consumption.
Despite that, the menace of consumption of alcohol in India is a problem that is growing like a cancer. Over the last 10 years, per capita alcohol consumption has risen by a shocking 38% in our country, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Some statistics from Indian states will help open our eyes to the negative effects of the killer called alcohol. In Tamil Nadu, consumption of alcohol is the largest reason the state has the largest number of widows under the age of 30. In Kerala, 69% of all crimes are committed due to consumption of liquor. In Maharashtra, hundreds of people have died or become blind due to the consumption of spurious liquor.
Consumption of alcohol leads triggers aggression in people and makes them violent. This results in them being more likely to commit murder or beat their wives. In may large Indian cities, rapists and sexual offenders were always found to be addicted to alcohol and drugs.
On our roads, alcohol takes thousands of loves every year. According to statistics from the Community Against Drunken Driving (CADD), 70% of road accident deaths in India are due to drunken driving.
The same report also noted that states with the highest amount of road accidents also had the highest per capita consumption of alcohol.
We all know of famous cases in cities like Mumbai and Delhi where people have driven their cars under the influence of alcohol and run over people. Drinking and driving puts not only your life but also that of others on the street in danger.
The other sad fact of drinking and driving is that prosecution tends to be woefully inadequate. Take this statistic for instance: less than 1% of people charged with drinking and driving are actually punished in Delhi. Now add to that the number of drivers who don’t even get caught and you’ll realize how deep this problem runs.
Globally, studies have linked the consumption of liquor with reduced productivity which leads people to be absent at work. As a result, these people lose their jobs, get driven into poverty which leads to them drinking even more.
The other indicator of a massive social disorder in our world is the rise in the number of pregnant women who consume alcohol. This is completely destroying the next generation as babies are born with genetic defects and diseased organs when their mothers consume liquor while they are pregnant.
Consumption of alcohol is also responsible for fatal disorders like cirrhoses of the liver, stroke and heart trouble which leads to millions of deaths every year. Alcohol is also the leading cause of depression which pushes people into committing suicide.
Complete ban on alcohol needed
Despite all the known evil effects of alcohol, it is shocking that there is still not a complete and total ban on it. Knowing that alcohol is the worst kind of poison, most governments still choose to allow people to sell it legally.
The main reason for that is alcohol is a large source of revenue for the government. Take the state of Tamil Nadu as an example. In that state, alcohol is shockingly sold by shops that are owned by a government division called Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation.
The revenues earned by Tamil Nadu every year from the sale of alcohol are a whooping Rs 8000 crore! This number also represents 30% of the total revenues of the state government. It is an extremely alarming fact that a major state earns 30% of its revenue by allowing the sale of poison to its own people in the form of alcohol.
Combine that with the prevalent corruption in our country and the power of the liquor mafia. Politicians in most states tend to make a lot of money from bribes given by the alcohol mafia.
Moreover, during elections, alcohol is freely distributed among poor people in order to get them to vote for the politician’s party. Therefore, it is evidently clear that the interests of the liquor mafia and politicians are closely interconnected.
The alcohol mafia in India has become so powerful that states have stopped maintaining and recording data for alcohol-related deaths since 2014.
This is a shocking fact which shows that the data is not being recorded in order to avoid inconvenient questions because of a high number of people who die due to alcohol consumption in India.
What we desperately need in India is a complete ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol. And many states in India have shown that it is quite possible to do this and still make enough revenues.
For example, Gujarat, which is among India’s most developed states, has long had a complete prohibition on alcohol. A couple of years ago, Bihar also successfully banned alcohol. If both these states can still develop despite a ban on alcohol, then there is no reason that other states cannot do the same.
Punjab bypasses court order, hotels can sell alcohol near highways
The Punjab Assembly on amended the excise act which will bypass the SC (Supreme Court) order to take alcohol off the menu in hotels, pubs, and restaurants near highways. After the new order hotels, restaurants and clubs near highways in Punjab will now be able to serve alcohol within 500 meters of highways.
Life greater than revenue
Amidst all of these numbers, it is shocking that the alcohol and bar owners lobby is fighting tooth and nail against this directive of the honorable apex court. Bar and alcohol store owners have claimed that this decision of the Supreme Court will result in a loss of over 1 million jobs in the hospitality sector.
This is a clear attempt to justify the business of selling alcohol by making an emotional plea. The hospitality sector in India is massive enough to absorb individuals who might have to look for jobs as bars shut down.
Moreover, it is unfortunate that the wealthy alcohol lobby would use poor workers and waiters as justification for blatantly doing their business on highways.
If these bars and liquor stores acted responsibly in the past, things would not have gotten so far as to merit a ban. How many times have liquor store or bar owners on highways refused to sell alcohol to drivers?
In several states of India, it is shocking to see lines of cars parked outside bars on restaurants while the drivers are busy getting drunk. Any responsible business establishment should refuse to serve alcohol to drivers in order to protect the lives of people and prevent accidents.
Moreover, bars on highways also tend to be gathering spots for several anti-social elements and make roads unsafe for women and other people especially in the night. It is rather sad that these liquor establishments did not fulfill their responsibilities in the past when they could and are now trying to fight this ban.
States should find alternatives
In India, excise duty collected from the sale of alcohol is a state subject and the revenues go into the treasuries of state governments. This had led many states to find a way around the alcohol ban by trying to denotify national and state highways as “urban roads” in order to find a legal loophole around the ban.
Union territories like Chandigarh and states including Maharashtra, Haryana, Goa, Rajasthan Tamil Nadu and West Bengal among others are mulling the denotification of highways.
On social media, people have shared examples of liquor establishments trying to find ways around the ban by moving their entrance to ensure that it is more than 500 meters from the highway.
The question to be asked here is whether revenue from alcohol is greater than the life of citizens. Knowing very well the harmful effects of alcohol and the menace of drunken driving, it is unfortunate that some states are trying to find loopholes rather than implementing the order of the Supreme Court in right earnest.
This also shows how entrenched the liquor lobby is and their power to influence policy for their own benefit.
It is an indisputable fact that consumption of alcohol kills people. The order of the Supreme Court is a good start but the goal of governments in all states should be a complete ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol.
Drinking liquor does not contribute anything positive to the life of individuals. Why then should the sale of such poison be allowed? The life of our citizens and innocent people should not be sacrificed just for the sake of revenue and money.
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