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One drink too many

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Recent hooch tragedies have shown that liquor policies of various state governments are not working. worse, laws are too weak to curb this menace [/h2]

By Shailendra Singh


Recently, 32 people died in hooch tragedies in Lucknow and Unnao districts of Uttar Pradesh and 100 underwent treatment. In November 2014, five died in Bhadohi in a similar tragedy, leading to the suspension of six government officials, while in October 2013, more than 30 died in Azamgarh after drinking illicit liquor. Similar tragedies have unfolded in other states, especially those which have completely or partially banned the sale of liquor. These include Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. How-ever, in Goa where there are low taxes on liquor, hooch tragedies are almost negligible.

LUCRATIVE TRADE

It is well-known that the spurious liquor industry is a lucrative one, running into crores, allegedly at the behest of local liquor mafias, politicians and the administration. And that’s the reason no serious steps have been taken by states to counter the problem. Worse, existing legislations to punish such offences are not adequate nor do they provide severe punishment to deter offenders indulging in this trade.

Various judgments have been made by courts in this regard. An observation by the Gujarat High Court is worth noting in the case of Hemanti Bai vs RG Patel after a disastrous hooch tragedy claimed more than 150 lives in 2009. “In cases like hooch tragedies, the accu-sed could be sentenced even to death if found guilty. Such a punishment will definitely have a deterrent effect but, by itself, would not be sufficient to curb the menace of illegal and illicit trading of liquor in the State”, the court said.

MALIHABAD, JAN 13:- A woman and her children sit next to the body of her husband, who died after consuming bootleg liquor, outside their residence at Malihabad town in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh January 13, 2015. A batch of bootleg liquor has killed at least 28 people in India, where tainted illegal alcohol often kills poor villagers unable to afford licensed spirits. Fifteen people died on Tuesday and about 90 remained in hospital, said Debashish Panda, principal home secretary of Uttar Pradesh, taking the total death toll since Monday to 28. REUTERS/UNI PHOTO-18R

A family mourns a death Malihabad

Another observation was made by the Sup-reme Court in the Manichan alias Maniyan and others vs State of Kerala. It states: “When standard and healthy alcohol in the form of liquor is not available or is too costly for a common man, the poor section of the society goes for illicitly distilled liquor which is sold by the bootleggers. The conscienceless bootleggers—thanks to their avarice for money—take full advantage of this human weakness and without any compunction or qualms of conscience, distil illicit liquor and then to increase the sale and to gain astronomical profits make their product more potent at least in taste so as to attract the poor customers. Such poor customers invariably become the prey of unholy avarice on the part of the bootleggers and in the process even lose their lives at times or suffer such injuries which are irreparable like total blindness, etc.”

Death toll

Comparative figures of lives lost due to consumption of spurious liquor in some states

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WEAK REGULATION

Though there are laws dealing with liquor regulation drafted by various state governments, these only reflect their non-serious attitude. Take the UP Excise Act. It makes the offence generally punishable with two years of imprisonment and fine. The Bombay Prohibition Act punishes the alteration of denatured spirit and possession with one year imprisonment and a fine up to Rs. 1,000. Other sections dealing with spurious liquor provide for a maximum of two years imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 1,000. If a person consumes spurious liquor and dies in Delhi, the offender is liable for death penalty and a fine up to Rs. 10 lakh under the Delhi Ex-cise Act. Capital punishment was introduced for such offenses in the act in 2009.

Surprisingly, one of the measures suggested by experts to curb this menace is to revoke bans and heavy taxes on liquor so that quality liquor can be easily available to people of all strata. Others express just the opposite view and say states should be mandated by Article 47 of the constitution. The article says: “It is the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living and public health.” These experts say the government should ban liquor completely and do strict enforcement of such a ban.
But in reality, an absolute ban has only added to the number of people dying after consuming spurious liquor which they get at cheap rates. It is time governments change laws to adjust to changing situations and values of society. After all, to drink or not to drink is completely an individual choice.

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