Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A DRINK FOR EVERY MOUTHFUL OF FOOD


When I say the word “drunkard” what is the image that comes to your mind? A man    ( yes, folks, I am sorry to say this but it is gender stereotyped!)  who is unshaven, thin  with blood shot eyes holding a glass in his hand!

Now open  up your mind further and imagine more.. what do you see? A man who spends all his income on drink, a family that is poor in debt and  an abused wife! The images may differ across class but essentially isn’t this the picture that comes to our minds?

Do you think we have wild imaginations?  I don’t think so. I think we are almost spot on! The fact that alcoholism is something that is destructive is very well stated in the Tamil saying “Kudi, kudia kedukum”  ( drink ruins domesticity).  If this saying is true, then why is it that a state government should actively promote sale of liquor? 

The Tamil nadu state marketing corporation limited (TASMAC)  is the single largest unit selling alcohol in the state of Tamil Nadu in India.  TASMAC also includes retail vending units through which liquor is sold. The reasons cited by the government for this large scale sale of liquor is that it can regulate price of liquor and ensure that no body falls sick consuming low quality or spurious liquor!! According to the TASMAC web site (http://tasmac.tn.gov.in)  “Before take over of Retail Vending by TASMAC, the Government Revenue through TASMAC was Rs.2828.09 Crores . It has increased to Rs.6086.95 Crores during the year 2005-06. The additional Government Revenue during 2005-06 was Rs.3258.86 Crores and the growth rate was 115.23%.”TASMAC  is reported  to have clocked revenues of Rs 14965 crores in 2010-11 is expected to close this year at around Rs 17,500-18,000 crores. For each bottle of foreign liquor the government is believed to charge around 58% VAT ( http:// alcoholindia.wordpress.com) !

I have been told informally by a senior economist who used to work for the state planning commission that alcohol sales is the 2nd – 3rd largest source of state revenue- the first being commercial taxes of which a large proportion is again from alcohol sales.

Now look at the other side of things- the Public Distribution System in the state – reported to be one of the best! An article published by THE HINDU  in August states that The Public Distribution System in Tamil Nadu is a success story, in its coverage as well as its pricing. Each family, whether below the poverty line or not, is entitled to 20 kg of rice at Re. 1 a kg.   So, the state is obviously incurring a huge amount of expenditure through food subsidy. The above mentioned article states that the food subsidy through the PDS in Tamilnadu increased from Rs. 734.85 crore during 2003-04, to Rs. 1,017.78 crore in 2004-05, Rs. 1,559.64 crore in 2005-06, Rs. 1,833.02 crore in 2006-07, Rs. 1,961.06 crore in 2007-08, and Rs. 2,795.85 crore in 2008-09. During 2009-10, Tamil Nadu had to enhance the subsidy to Rs. 4,000 crore!

Put the figures around the revenue from alcohol sales along with the food subsidy and there is no difficulty in guessing where the revenue is being spent! The PDS let me tell you is just one example of  subsidized food . There is the noon meal program of schools and the integrated nutrition projects which are all subsidy driven!

Many may say that the government is actually doing good work because they are spending the money earned on welfare schemes. But I have a different take on this!!

Isn’t there some other way to raise revenue? It is like feeding people something poisonous and then treating them with good medicines and medical care and then talking about how much we care!!!

A friend of mine used to joke “What the father pays for a drink in the evening is spent on feeding his kids at the noon meal center the next day!”

One may wonder why this kind of a crazy balance between poison and nourishment? The reasons are quite deep. The state actually started out in the 1970s and 80s with good intentions to address the food security issues. In fact entire election campaigns were around that and the political mandate around access to subsidized food still continues to be a driver around electoral choices ( forget those TVs and mixers folks.. they are just gimmicks!). The state has therefore successfully combated malnutrition!

But what it has not been able to get over, probably  has been this culture of dependence and subsidy that it has created the funding for which requires it to  become tavern owners! And  what is the point of putting the warning  “Alcohol consumption is harmful for health” ? Nothing but sheer hypocrisy!

I have been told by exasperated women in the villages during discussions about how they wished that alcohol would not be so freely available. “ If the government is bent upon ruining our lives then what can we do” ? asked a woman during a meeting in a fishing village in Nagapattinam. I had no answer for it.

There are states like Gujarat which follow the other extreme measure of “Prohibition”! Now that is equally silly because people who want to drink still do –they can buy and sell liquor very easily!

Please note that I am not being judgmental about alcohol consumption. It is quite alright in moderation and if one can finance it! The issue is an ethical one- about bringing all alcohol sales under the control of the state in the name of fair prices so as to earn revenue! It is almost laughable actually- we have fair price shops for groceries and now the government is trying to get “fair price” shops for liquor!

So, next time  someone in Tamil Nadu  tells you in anger that the “tax payers money” is being wasted then please correct them and tell them that it is the “drunkard’s money” that is being wasted! We are not interested in creating a state of entrepreneurs or hard working people. We would like to lazy lumps depending on state subsidy –both for our food and our tipple!

 ( for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Indian denomination of "crore" - 1 crore = 10 million)

11 comments:

The Narcissist said...

You know in Nepal Cigarettes and Alcohol is banned because it ruins the happiness of the people. They dont measure their advancement based on GDP. They measure it in basis of the number of happy people.

KParthasarathi said...

There is a perennial debate on the pros and cons of prohibition of alcohol.On ethical and health considerations and even for the wellbeing of the family (with more money and less wife beating)total prohibition is the way to go.But sadly it brings in its wake bootlegging ,corruption,illegal brewing, consumption of spurious stuff like varnish and periodical deaths or loss of vison of many who take illegally prepared liquor.There should be increased law enforcement establishment which again may not be efficient and be venal.
The tax on liquor is therefore kept high to make it dear.It is no doubt a source of revenue for government and the saving grace is that the money rightfully belonging to family and spent by the drunkards on liquor is paid back to the families through subsidised rations freebies etc.It is no doubt a vicious circle.
No easy answer is possible.Partial prohibition is not feasible and not equitable

Jack said...

Meera,

A very thought provoking post. I would like to bring out a few points. You yourself have cited example of Gujrat. I will just say that this kind of law encourages criminal activity of liquor smuggling or worst brewing of illicit liquor which has no quality checks. In certain states liquor vends are auctioned and contractors bid very high. Almost close to thirty years ago I had asked some known vendors how do they recover, the reply was shocking. All this was off the record as it was just verbal conversation. I was told that they siphon off some contents from bottles and fill with either water or spirit to create extra stock. You can well imagine consequences of later adulteration. Only way out is to raise awareness about what addiction leads to. May be have more centers for treatment of addiction also.

Take care

Meera Sundararajan said...

Yes Narcissist I have heard about that. It happens in Bhutan too-they call it the well being indicator!

Meera Sundararajan said...

True Jack. But awareness raising would mean less drinking and less revenue.. I wonder if it would lead to more starvation.. crazy isn't it?

anilkurup said...

I understand your anguish and outrage. But then when an election gimmick like Re 1 rice has to be subsidised from easy money and liquor sales bring forth easy revenue.
While we lived in Tamilnad, we used to give our ration quota to our maid, who in turn sold us the rice for Rs 20 and we consumed it. I do not know what one should call that transaction. The problem is the cheap stunt brings rice at the paltry price to all and sundry.

As for the consumption of alcohol, one must understand and acknowledge ones financial capability and also the consequences of jettisoning moderation. To slightly amend a commercial slogan on alcohol, | those who are sensible appreciate and enjoy alcohol".

Bikramjit said...

all that is ok BUT instead of banning drinking or smoking wont it make a better decision to ban the manufacturing of the product .. that way you cant have them at all.

I dont understand one thing each day in news we hear 200crores, a thousand crore , a 800crore scam .. where is all this money.. if scams dont happen just imagine how much money there will be to play with ..


all this rs 1 kg or other stunts only come during election times ..

Bikram's

Rachna said...

Like you pointed out, prohibition is not the answer. The same applies to smoking too. The governments get huge revenues from their sales. The only possible way out is to have awareness campaigns. I understand the plight of the rural women, but no government is going to let go of this easy money.

Jack said...

Meera,

LOL. Sorry as it is serious topic. But less drinking also means that money thus saved by individual will go for family fare which will lead to less persons for doles, isn't it?

Meera Sundararajan said...

Yes Rachna, you are spot on about this! The point is that this revenue is being used to create another kind of dependency!

Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

There are many debates that we can bring to the table with regard to this topic. In Kerala, as you probably know, liquor consumption has reached abominable heights. So much so that now bars and state liquor outlets want to stay open from early morning and a high court order is the only thing that obstructs this.


For states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, liquor sales bring forth easy revenue. If only the society we live in could openly acknowledge its social and economic consequences in the open and create a dialogue around why we need to rethink the consumption the way it is going now, there can be no scope for change. We have to bring the change with openness and that is the real stumbling block in our society.We would acknowledge the neighbor has a drinking problem but not that one of our family members does too.

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