The recent decision of the Punjab Government to try out an online home delivery model for supplying liquor in Mohali has attracted a lot of criticism at an early stage, and this criticism is well-deserved. In fact, when the previous BJP-led government in Maharashtra had tried to implement a similar scheme in the state, the reactions were so adverse that it had to be withdrawn within a very short time of being made public.
The case against such a scheme in Punjab is even stronger. Punjab is already among the leading consumers of alcohol in the country. Its per capita annual consumption of 7.9 litres places it second in the country among all states. Adverse health and social impacts of high liquor consumption have been already reported time and again from Punjab. The state also has a very serious problem of drug addiction in addition to heavy alcohol consumption.
Online delivery of liquor will contribute to further increasing the consumption of alcohol. This is in fact accepted by the government as the rationale for the scheme is given more in terms of higher excise earnings for the state government. But higher excise will come only if there is higher consumption. Hence this is clearly a case of the government going all-out to promote and facilitate alcoholism. While the WHO and other agencies favour various restrictions being placed on access as a way of reducing consumption, the Punjab government is going in the opposite direction, all in the name of increasing its revenue.
Once online home delivery of liquor is allowed, all restrictions that exist at present in the case of sale of liquor, for instance in the context of denying purchase to persons below a certain age, will be much easier to flout, with some help from suppliers. Already there is high concern regarding the increasing consumption of liquor by teenagers in Punjab, including the harmful binge drinking.
According to a survey by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the number of minors in the age-group 10-17 who consume liquor in Punjab is 120,000. This may well be an underestimation. Mohali, in particular, is a bad choice for experimenting with online supply of liquor.
Mohali is known to have a heavy concentration of students. It is situated next door to Chandigarh, the state capital which Punjab shares with Haryana. Haryana is supposed to have a policy of restraining liquor consumption. Were the state government of Haryana or the authorities or representatives of Chandigarh consulted before the experiment was launched in Mohali? Were organisations of women in even Mohali consulted, and if so was their opinion given any importance? Even from a narrow political perspective, this scheme of online delivery of liquor may prove very costly for the ruling Congress Party.
Drug addiction was an important issue in the previous election and is likely to remain so in the next election. The Congress had promised to take strong steps to reduce this. Now with the government going out of its way to increase liquor consumption, its credibility will suffer badly. You cannot be seen to be curbing drug addiction when you are so visibly seen to be promoting alcohol. It will be easy now for the opposition parties particularly the Akali Dal and the BJP to take the moral high ground while lambasting the ruling party for this scheme.
The simmering Khalistani elements will also get fodder for their propaganda as they will present the government as a promoter of social evils like alcoholism while ignoring its good work in several other areas. One hopes that wiser counsel will prevail, and the Punjab government will abandon this idea of online delivery of alcohol at an early stage. After all Maharashtra and Karnataka too had given up such schemes after toying with them for some time.
However, if the state government persists with the scheme the Congress high command should intervene and convince the state government of the folly of going ahead with this scheme and extending it to the entire state or parts of it. The women and youth organisations within the Congress Party and the State Women’s Commission should also voice their opposition. The Congress party has been asserting its legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and his values but if one of its state governments is seen to be going so blatantly in exactly the opposite direction, then one can imagine what a sorry figure the Congress party will cut in front of its critics and how difficult it will be to defend this decision of the Punjab Government.
The fact that even before this scheme in Punjab, at least two state governments had initiated such efforts indicates that there are powerful and resourceful backers of this idea of online home-delivery of alcohol. Hence it is also important to oppose such schemes at a national level so that these can be checked once and for all. Such tendencies are specially avoidable now that there is so much fact-based evidence of very adverse social and health consequences of alcohol from all over the world.
(The writer is the author of several books on Gandhiji and Gandhian movements, the latest being Man Over Machine – A Path Towards Peace)