Hard drink has come at a price to the state, thanks to its leaders who target new highs in personal business.
People linked to the legislators of Faridkot and Kotkapura enjoy monopoly over the liquor business in the district. Hence, no surprise that alcohol is overpriced in these parts and little scope remains for competition and awareness against the menace. Before the draw of lots for liquor shops in the district this year, 21 applications were withdrawn, leaving the field open to the two big players.
No celebration in the district is complete without liquor, price no object. "Because liquor has consumed people physically, leaders now exploit them financially," said Jagjeet Singh, a young man from Panjgrain Kalan village. "It has destabilised the economy and social health of the lower and middle classes.”
Kanto, a widow from Devi Wala village, remembered how alcohol destroyed her son. "Ghaplu began to drink so much after marriage that his wife took their daughter to her parents. He sold off all the items in the house and even the metal roof my late husband had built with years of labour and investment. When he sold his only room, his brother had to buy it out of compulsion."
A farmer from Panjgrain Kalan village finishes a bottle of whisky before the sun goes down each day. “For the past seven year, my group assembles at the tavern in the evening to join the rush,” he said. He has fallen sick twice because of alcohol but is unable to kick the habit.
A young man from Bir Sikhan Wala village who had been drinking for the past 10 years, mostly free of cost at a religious dera where liquor was paid as oblation, died last year of multiple organ failure. His wife and children now struggle to make a living. Sikander Singh, a young man from Gholia Khurad village of Moga district lost his regular job in a central security force because of drinking. The jobless father of three now lives off income from a small land holding but he still drinks.
“The ruling party has monopoly over the liquor business in the district," said Kushaldeep Singh Dhillon, general secretary of the state Congress and former legislator of Faridkot. "The liquor is overpriced. The government earns revenue from the auction of liquor shops but the next generation is getting destroyed."
In the district, you can have liquor delivered at your doorstep. "The poor are addicted to country liquor that cost Rs 100 a bottle," said Darshan Singh, former sarpanch of Dhilwan Kalan.
Faridkot made almost Rs 73 crore in revenue this year from the auction of liquor shops in the nine circles, Rs 4 crore more from last year. The district's male population is only 3,27,000, including children.