A fitting tribute to Mahatma Gandhi

Report by: 
Debkumar Bhadra
Port Blair
1 Oct 2016

According to a recent news report carried in a leading daily, 6 students including two girls from a reputed school at Port Blair were found attending class under the influence of alcohol. Based on complaints from fellow students, the Physical Education Teacher conducted an inquiry and found 6 students in an inebriated state in the class.

Another news item appeared during the same time read Rajinder Singh (48) of Shadipur village died while driving under the influence of liquor on September 20, 2016. Police said, Rajinder and Rohit consumed liquor near Corby’s Cove and while driving back to Port Blair, Rajinder Singh lost control of his bike and hit a wall near the Dargah at Mazar Pahad.  Grievously injured Rajinder Singh was rushed to GB Pant Hospital where the doctors declared him brought dead.

Certainly none would want their school going children to fall prey to the intoxicating drink, nor would anyone imagine Rajinder Singh’s life would be cut short in such a tragic manner. But given the number of Bars and Liquor outlets operating in the city, such instances are merely a speck in the vast plethora of problems that alcoholism brings with it. A look at 2013 NCRB report (data for deaths due to alcohol influence has been stopped since 2014) suggest Rajinder Singh is not the only unfortunate one in the list of alcohol related deaths. An India Spend analysis of 2013 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data reveal he is one among 15 persons who die every day from the effects of drinking alcohol in India. This translates to one death every 96 minutes due to alcohol in our country.

Such an alarming rate of death due to alcohol caught attention of the country so much so that Nitish Kumar announced complete prohibition in the state of Bihar immediately after assuming Chief Ministership of the state. Similarly J Jayalalithaa shut down 500 state owned TASMAC liquor shops on the first day of her fourth term as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. On the other hand Kerala resolving to implement prohibition in a phased manner restricted sale of liquor to five-star hotels in the state. Conseuently more than 700 bars has been shut down since policy change in Kerala. Gujrat and Nagaland are the other states where complete prohibition on alcohol is in place. Lakshadweep is the only Union Territory that has banned sale and consumption of alcohol.

ANIIDCO at the fore front:

The situation in Andaman and Nicobar Island is completely different. In a scathing blogpost in The Light of Andamans, Zubair Ahmed writes, the extent of damage is beyond imagination. With a population of 4 lakhs and a couple of lakh tourists, the islands consumed not less than 52 lakh litres of liquor in 2015-16, an increase of 2.21 lakh litres from 2014-15. ANIIDCO, the sole distributor of IMFL sold liquor for Rs 150 crores last year and made a profit of Rs 16.36 crores from liquor sales alone out of Rs 19.03 crores net profit of the Corporation.

All other heads including POL, milk, steel, air ticketing and tourism activities combined made a profit of just Rs 2.66 crores. Out of total sale of 52 lakh litres, 37.11 lakh litres of hard liquor, 15.17 lakh litres of beer and 0.39 lakh litres of Ready to Drink (RTD) alcoholic beverages were sold in 2015-16.While South Andaman consumed 35.58 lakh litres, other Islands from Campbell Bay to N&M Andaman consumed 17.10 lakh litres.

It is ironical that a nation which takes pride in invoking the contribution, ideals and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, it resorts to pick and choose when it comes to translating those ideals into practice. Use of state machinery to fuel liquor trade in the country is one such example where the state appears to be at variance with the ideals of Mahatma. It is therefore well justified that Humane Touch, a NGO based in South Andaman is organizing a March for Alcohol Free Andamans on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti ie on 1st October, 2016 from ITF Ground to Tiranga Park at 3 PM. I take this opportunity to urge fellow islanders to participate in the initiative in every possible way and make it a grand success.

In a day we shall be celebrating Gandhi Jayanti. Therefore if we, as a nation, wish to pay tributes to Mahatma in true sense, total prohibition could be a fitting tribute. (Freelance writer, South Andaman)