Kerala wants to be a dry state http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/kerala-to-close-down-700-bars-sundays-to-be-dry-114082101171_1.html
It is ironic that I have to write this blog post against it – as a guy who has seen the evil effects of alcoholism at close quarters and with every bit of my soul, I wish this menace went away for good. But as I read more about the proposal by the ruling coalition (ironically called United Democratic Front – given there is very rarely any unity or democracy in how they function ), the more I think this is absolutely misguided, and has no real chance of succeeding.
1. It is not a well thought through decision
The decision was taken over a few days – with no meaningful public debate. And because of its populist nature with women voters, no political party in Kerala can afford to raise a contrarian view.
2, It was not done for the right reasons
The decision was made mostly for the Chief Minister Chandy to convince the world that he is holier than the already “holier than thou” leader of KPCC V.M Sudheeran. They waged a war for political image and took a short term populist decision – with no sufficient thought to consequences. The other alleged reason is the political pressure from Muslim League and Church leaders. This is no better (if true) – as church and state hardly ever mixes well to make good policies.
3. There is no practical way to enforce this
When prohibition leads to bootlegging and plenty of flow of illicit alcohol from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, it will be up on the Excise department to curb that. This is a department that is already at just 20% of the needed headcount . There is no way they can staff quickly enough to enforce prohibition
4. When and where did banning alcohol work ?Never
India – including Kerala – has seen what happens when alcohol gets banned . It does not work. It did not work in USA either and they learned the lesson and changed it, and did not go back to prohibition. Alcohol is freely available in USA and you do not need to stand in line to get a bottle of your favorite spirit like you need to do outside a beverages corp outlet in Kerala. Yet, there is rarely a regular public spectacle of drunken people like we see in Kerala.
5. If the decision was pure in its intentions, why was government owned beverages corporation given 10 years to close shop while private bars have to be closed right away?
Clearly the government needs revenue from alcohol sales – but does not mind the private sector losing their business. Alcohol sales is probably the leading revenue earner for the state, along with tourism and NRI inflow. Without a doubt prohibition will decrease tourism. So its a double whammy for government revenue. And remember, this is a government that functions on borrowed money and has no fiscal discipline ( look at the plight of KSRTC for example).
6. Demand and Supply situation will drive up alcohol prices, and worsen the social menace
The social menace arises from the behavior of several men to use money they can ill afford to buy liquor. Now that competition from private bars will be eliminated, beverages corp and 5 star hotels can increase liquor prices to any extent. What this means is that the men who want to drink will now pay a lot more (travelling farther to drink, paying more for that drink, and most likely higher medical expenses incurred by consuming bad quality liquor ) and hence will put their families through even greater pain to cater to their addiction.
What would have been a better way to handle this situation?
1. Better and continuous education and awareness generation amongst public to enjoy their drink responsibly, and how to get help for those who are addicted.
2. Increase the standards required to run bars and its enforcement, and aggressively close down any that don’t meet the high standards.
3. Provide government funded counseling and medical treatment for alcoholism.
4. Make laws that let abused families to get justice, and help get their abusive family members checked into institutions that offer help.
5. Improve enforcement – by modernizing the police force, excise etc.
6. Decrease alcohol concentration in domestic liquor – especially in beer.
All of this can and should be funded by beverage corp revenue. Alcoholism is a social menace that needs resolution – and government has an important role to play. But it needs to be done in a well thought through way – not in the hasty and populist way it is attempted now.