Where’s the formal plan, which are the criteria for closing liquor shops, ask activists
As the new government in Tamil Nadu completes its first month, it has taken a first step towards fulfilling one of its key election promises: prohibition. But the way it is moving forward, activists and civil society are not very confident of its efficacy.
On Sunday, the government closed down 500 liquor outlets – following chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s first announcement to that effect after taking charge. However, many pointed out that particularly those shops that were generating less revenue have been closed, making it a cosmetic gesture.
Duraimurugan, shop supervisor at one of the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) – which has a monopoly on retail liquor sales – said shops with sales less than Rs 50,000 have been shut down.
Others, however, pointed to other criteria in selecting the shops for closure, for example, heavy traffic and parking problems near the liquor outlet. For instance, in Chennai city, shop number 713 in the busy area of Velachery generating more than Rs 3 lakh revenue per day and shop number 412 and 417 generating Rs 2 lakh have been closed due to heavy traffic and parking problem near these outlets.
Still, the move puzzled many who wanted the government to clarify the criteria and also announce the future plan to implement the prohibition promise.
Looking at the pattern of the closure of 500 liquor outlets, Jayaram Venkatesan of Arappor Iyakkam, a city-based NGO, working towards anti-corruption argued that even the density of population also seems to be a factor. Districts with low human development index (HDI) and not that densely populated have highest number of closure of shops.
Sivagangai, where the highest numbers of shops, that is 43, have been closed, is not a densely populated area and is a high migration area. Probably in these places not much revenue is coming from the liquor outlets. Villupuram is again very low on HDI and 29 liquor shops have been closed in this district. In Ramnad, where 36 shops are shut down, is also low on HDI and lots of people migrate from these regions.
However, in Chennai city only seven shops are shut down. There was demand for closure of two outlets in Mylapore locality itself. But in entire South Chennai constituency only two shops are closed.
“It is still unclear as to what criteria the government fixed for closing these shops. The government should come out with a blueprint. This government has never been forthcoming with respect to any information. So the civil societies plan to file an RTI,” said Venkatesan.
Venkatesan added, “The other concern is that there is absolutely no word yet from the government on setting up de-addiction centres.” De-addiction has to be part of the plan to make prohibition total and effective – a lesson Tamil Nadu can learn from Bihar, which put district-wise de-addiction clinics in place along with banning sale and consumption of liquor, as part of the election promise.
MG Devasahayam, a Chennai-based former bureaucrat and social activist, said Tamil Nadu has an established culture of liquor consumption, so the government promise is just eyewash. “The question to be asked is whether the government has any plans to go back to the original concept that was to provide cheap and good quality liquor for those amongst the poor classes who consume it,” he said.