Ban this, Ban that. Indian govt goes on a ban spree.
Media widely refers to the Indian Republic as the Ban Republic. To uphold the ‘dignity of India’ government chooses to impose the ban on things which are rather unnecessary in today’s scenario.
However it is the government that has the ultimate authority to decide what is right and what is not for a healthy nation. The following are the results of such well thought out decisions. Watch out!
After beef, Centre guns for booze.
NDA government, urged on by the RSS, wants to throttle alcohol sales in India; will recruit women and taxes to do the job.
Encouraged by what it terms a “relative” success in banning cow slaughter in some Indian states, the BJP-led NDA government has drawn up a strategy to severely limit alcohol consumption in the country. Its pincer-like approach involves throttling sales by raising taxes to prohibitive levels, and appealing to the sensibilities of the country’s women, a constituency which, government-commissioned research has revealed, is particularly receptive to the idea of curtailed access to liquor. The plan, according to sources within the government, bears the imprimatur of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which provides the BJP its ideological backbone.
There are multiple stakeholders in the government’s “Reduce Alcoholism” drive. First, there is the ministry of health affairs that has stated it is imperative health problems arising from alcoholism be tackled imminently. It proposes “taxation by alcohol content as an efficient intervention”. The ministry has warned the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that for every rupee the government earns from a bottle of liquor, it loses more than Rs 4 in healthcare expenses and squandered productivity.
The ministry of social justice, for its part has advised the PMO that “social problems such as domestic violence, suicide, are a primary concern and are increasing”. For the ministry, alcohol control is of “paramount importance”.
Allied with these ministries are organisations that have amassed terabytes of data to support arguments against alcohol consumption: the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The prevalent view among policymakers is that alcohol should be covered by a common tax that is monitored and handled by the Centre. The states, the thinking goes, should not be allowed to decide pricing policies. This will aid in combating cross-border smuggling, a PMO official told Mumbai Mirror.
For instance, Maharashtra actively discourages consumption by means of high prices and low sales. But comparatively liberal policies in Goa and Daman offer incentive to smugglers who spirit the stuff into Maharashtra, which is also a transit point for liquor from Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab to Gujarat, a dry state. Incidentally, in Maharashtra, Wardha and Gadchiroli in Vidarbha, and Chandrapur have been declared liquor-free.
A vociferous critic of the government’s alcohol policy and one of the most strident voices calling for temperance is the RSS. The Sangh’s opposition to alcohol is of Gandhian provenance and its proposed plan of action rooted in health economics – it proposes that taxation be deployed as a control measure. According to an RSS functionary, a note to this effect was dispatched to the government late last year – he did not specify to whom.
“Our push is not for total prohibition. It [the note] is only saying it wants the government to make liquor – both Indian-made foreign liquor and country liquor frightfully expensive, out of reach of the common man,” he said. “It is a slow process, and we are confident that the government would be able to push it through in the interests of the nation.”
The PMO has tasked the Alcohol and Drug Information Center (ADIC) with compiling figures that establish a correlation (if not causality) between alcohol abuse and lawlessness. The findings suggested that 35 per cent of crimes, 50 per cent of road accidents and 55 per cent of domestic violence cases were linked to alcohol and substance abuse. “The patterns of Indians’ drinking habits are definitely problematic,” said Johnson J Edayaranmula, director of ADIC.
This is valuable munition and the PMO is using it in its offensive against alcohol consumption. A recent study by Pernod Ricard, one of India’s largest liquor companies, shows New Delhi has, over a period of 15 years, steadily increased prices of liquor. A bottle of beer, which cost Rs 50 in 2009, is now sold for a little over Rs 120.
The government has all the numbers to push its agenda, said Mohan Shukla, who oversaw corporate relations for Pernod Ricard before moving to a telecom company last year. “This is not an eating habit (like beef or pork) which will trigger serious debates and could have religious connotations. Alcohol menace has universal appeal across India,” he said.
The RSS, realizing that women – or “homemakers”, as it calls them – provide unequivocal support to opposing the menace, has proposed that the centre recruit them vigorously. “Women’s voice is of utmost importance,” said the Sangh functionary. This section of the electorate – 49 per cent of India’s 841 million registered voters, by the RSS’s reckoning – “have often vented their ire on issues of rising cases of alcoholism and drunken deaths on the highway”.
“India needs a sustained campaign, nothing else will work,” said Dipankar Gupta, a social analyst. “Several states, urged by women’s groups, have tried to impose prohibition on their men, but the move failed.”
He was quick to admit that there was no gainsaying the proposal to inculcate temperance in India. “The government will have support from all quarters, including opposition political parties, when it eventually pushes the agenda,” he said. “Indian politicians will never openly argue for alcohol.”