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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Many ways to stop more hooch tragedies

Restrict the sale of cheap industrial alcohol, which is a base for illegal liquor

editorials Updated: Feb 27, 2019 22:34 IST

Hindustan Times
Meerut: Victims undergo treatment after consuming a spurious liquor at Saharanpur, Meerut, Feb 9
Meerut: Victims undergo treatment after consuming a spurious liquor at Saharanpur, Meerut, Feb 9(PTI)

As the usual political outrage swirls around the latest hooch tragedy in Assam (as it did earlier over the deaths in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand), the real reasons for the tragedies have been obscured. Given the regularity and geographical spread of these occurrences, it seems pointless to apportion blame to one particular political party, although the oversight of whichever party it may be cannot be excused.

In UP, legal and controlled liquor has got more expensive in recent times, thanks to a cess for cow shelters. This puts much of it out of the reach of many in the lower income and below poverty level. With alcohol out of GST, the costs of manufactures across India have gone up. Some of the colours and chemicals that go into liquor manufacturing have increased as has transport freight, the cost of which has been passed on to the consumer. There is no rationalisation of prices across India, which makes tax rates the prerogative of state governments. They can increase prices at will as liquor is a major revenue spinner. Naturally, manufacturers have pushed for vends in high turnover areas, which are bound to be more affluent. This has created a thriving trade in illicit liquor in many parts, especially rural India, often controlled by mafias in cahoots with the local police. The easy availability of relatively cheap industrial alcohol, which is used to produce illicit liquor, is another reason that makes it so easy for hooch sellers to set up shop almost overnight and sell their wares at low prices. The shortage of affordable, legal and quality controlled liquor in many areas is exploited by these elements.

In many rural and tribal ones, where drinking is part of cultural custom, it is particularly easy for illicit liquor vendors to operate. The only way out would be for states to puts curbs on the easy sale of industrial alcohol and, of course, exercise more vigilance. Since the revenue from liquor is substantial, efforts should be made to ensure that safe and quality-controlled liquor vends are increased so that there are fewer areas which can be used by illegal sellers. This is not to suggest that alcohol consumption should be encouraged but to ensure that only legal and controlled alcohol is in the market. At the same time, there should be a national alcohol policy as prescribed by WHO to prescribe much more aggressive awareness campaigns on the problems of liquor abuse along the lines of what has been done with tobacco.