Monday, August 3, 2015

Prohibition demand in Tamil Nadu: what about Puducherry?

By D. Ravikumar

Tamil Nadu’s long-standing demand for prohibition has finally achieved pre-dominance in the state’s political landscape. The death of prohibition activist Sasi Perumal has made it even more so – protests have erupted in various parts of the state. 

Kalingappatti, a small hamlet in the southern part of the state has witnessed a bloody confrontation with the police; liquor shops have been ransacked by protesters across the state; several parties such as the MDMK, VCK, MMK have called for a statewide bandh on August 4 which is being supported by traders’ associations and political parties such as the Congress and the DMDK.

None of this however, has touched the neighbouring union territory of Puducherry, even though the major political parties functioning in Puducherry, except for the ruling NR Congress, are offshoots of those in Tamil Nadu.

Prohibition crusaders like the PMK have never demanded prohibition in Puducherry. It is only the Left parties and the VCK who have made this demand in the union territory. 

Impact of alcoholism

There has been no serious research on the impact of alcoholism on public health in Puducherry, even though there may be a direct link between the high suicide rate and alcoholism. Puducherry has the highest suicide rate in the country - 40.4, which is three times higher than the national average of 10 (National Crime Record Bureau data, 2014). In 2014, 644 persons had committed suicide in the union territory. 

Alcohol economy

Puducherry has an alcohol economy: it is dependent on liquor sales. According to the Puducherry government, a large portion of the union territory’s revenue comes from the excise department. This has been true since the time of French colonization. One of the first distilleries in the union territory – Ariyankuppam – was established by the government itself over 100 years ago to produce arrack.

Today, the state-owned PAPSCO, PASIC and Amudhasurabi run 40 retail outlets, but almost all of the Indian Made Foreign Liquor, arrack and toddy shops are owned by private parties. Even though the economy of Puducherry depends to a large extent on the income accruing from duties on alcoholic beverages, the UT government has never tried to nationalize the liquor trade.

The reluctance of Puducherry’s political parties is demanding prohibition in the union territory is hardly surprising given that most liquor shops are run directly or indirectly by local politicians.

The UT government annually earns around Rs 100 crore through licences granted to 130 arrack shops, 109 toddy shops and 417 IMFL outlets.

Excise revenue from liquor sales in 2014 was Rs 375.03 crore and the government’s target for 2015 is Rs 560 crore, but when per capita consumption is taken into consideration, this figure is rather low. This low revenue accruing to the government is the direct result of the trade being in the hands of private players, who have benefited from the liquor policy of the UT government.

It is high time prohibition for Puducherry is discussed. People are anxious to know what the Congress, DMK and BJP is on this demand.

(The writer is the General Secretary of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, a political party in Tamil Nadu)

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