At a time when the Kerala government is mulling installing liquor vending machines in the state, an NGO has come out with an alarming report that claims 34 percent of the state's population consume alcohol everyday.
In an anti-liquor campaign report, the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), which is known for its progressive ideology and proximity to Left parties in the state, claimed that 45 percent of the male population in the state aged between 15 and 49 are alcoholic.
Stalin G, one of the secretaries in the NGO's state committee, said they don't want to impose a blanket ban on sale of liquor in the state, but they want to reduce its availability and bring down its consumption. "It is not at all practical to impose a blanket ban. We should focus more on cutting down its availability, which is one of the best ways of controlling excessive drinking in the state," Stalin said.
The report added that 35 percent consume liquor at public places or on public roads. It said that by controlling availability of liquor, consumption can be brought down. And in controlling the availability, the state has a vital role to play.
The state's own tax revenue (SOTR) for a year has been estimated at Rs 40,000 crore. About 60 percent of the SOTR comprises Value Added Tax collected from the sale of goods, and the remaining 40 percent from sale of liquor, petrol and diesel as Kerala Government Sales Tax. About 25 percent of the Rs 40,000 crore is made up from the sale of liquor alone, making it critical for the government to meet its committed expenditure.
While asked if the state government's revenue would be impacted by these steps, Stalin said that statistics revealed by the government are "fake". "The amounts revealed by the government are true. But while the government earns revenue from liquor sale, it spends on other aspects arising due to alcohol consumption, like road accidents caused by drunk driving," he added.
The NGO's campaign has come at a time when the state government has drastically diluted the previous UDF-led government's ban on alcohol by allowing hotels that are three-stars and above to sell alcohol. In 2014, the Congress-led coalition had announced that the coastal state would move to become alcohol-free within 10 years. As part of that policy, the government said only five-star hotels would be granted liquor licences.
But interestingly, the current government recently even initiated a study on the prospects of allowing independently owned craft breweries to open shop in Kerala. This has enraged those opposed to the legal manufacture and sale of alcohol.
In September, Kerala made further concessions in its liquor policy for the sake of better economics, allowing people to buy or consume alcohol at distances of 50 metres from schools and religious places. Earlier, a 200-metre distance was necessary between bars — places licenced to sell alcohol — and educational or religious institutions.
Role of alcohol in depression
Such relaxations are brought about at a time when the suicide rate in Kerala is more than double the national average and highest among all states. High suicide rate is linked to alcoholism. Experts have warned that depression is the most untreated and undertreated mental health malady. If untreated, nearly 15 percent of people may develop suicidal tendencies at a later stage.
Among men, alcoholism is seen as a major cause of depression which often leads to suicides. Dr James Vadackumchery, a psychologist and criminologist, said that until and unless the state gives up revenue from liquor sales, excessive consumption in the state will continue. “State needs money. So, they will formulate liquor policies accordingly only. Eventually, availability and consumption of liquor will go up,” James said. “I can personally say that such attitude from government is resulting in a worrisome trend of boys starting consuming liquor at much tender age,” James added.
The NGO report adds that 42% of youngsters in Kerala are alcoholic. It also adds that at one go, a Keralite can consume 180 ml of alcohol.
Though the state witnessed a noticeable dip in suicide rate over the past one and a half decades from 28.8 in 2001 to 24.9 in 2016, the mental health of Kerala society continues to face a host of challenges that need to be addressed on priority.
According to alcoholrehab.com, Indians prefer hard liquors and distilled spirits over beers – 80% of consumption involves these stronger beverages. The Lancet also reported that more than half of those who consume alcohol in India would fall into the category of hazardous drinking.
It has been suggested that there are a worryingly 14 million people in India who would be described as dependent on alcohol and in need of help.
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Updated Date: Nov 22, 2017 10:34:41 IST