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)