The Crotchet’s Corner

My perspective about all things inconsequential

The Hooch tragedy

Over 130 people died in Gujarat recently after consuming hooch.

A lot of noise will be made, platitudes will be trotted out by anyone and everyone who wants a share of the limelight, and the entire matter will be forgotten in double-quick time.

Concern for the fact that life has changed irrevocably for the families of the 131 people who died will vaporize soon.

And, it will be business as usual.

What did these 131 unfortunate victims do? Well, they consumed illicit liquor that contained four times the permitted amount of methyl alcohol.

Prohibition has been in force in Gujarat for over forty years, and the sale of alcoholic beverages is banned. It is not as if alcohol is not available, though. Local laws allow the sale of alcohol to people who obtain a medical certificate from a designated civil surgeon, with the worthy prescribing a dose of liquor for treating ailments.

This is baffling, to say the least, since one needs to stretch one’s imagination to find ailments that can be cured by a daily quota of booze. And, the system bares itself to exploitation as people choose to concoct medical records in connivance with some dishonest members of the medical fraternity.

There are many who argue that imposition of prohibition opens the door to smuggling of alcohol from neighbouring states, with hefty premiums being charged, as a consequence.

Opponents of prohibition also argue that prohibition encourages bootlegging, as people seek alternate ways to obtain their brew.

There are many who insist that prohibition in Gujarat has something to do with the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi – a man who advocated vegetarianism, boycott of foreign goods, etc. Yes, the great man did advocate that the poor needed to be protected from the evils of alcohol, but, from whatever I have read, did not call for total prohibition.

It is also ironic that the Gandhi’s name is being brought into the equation, since there are many other matters advocated by him that have been blatantly and conveniently ignored. 

This is not to say that illicit liquor is sold only in places where prohibition exists. There are several other states where such stuff is brewed, and one does hear horrific reports of people dying after consuming hooch. One of the primary reasons that encourages the production of illicit liquor is the price, since the poor cannot afford to buy the stuff that is manufactured by the organized sector.

Prohibition is fine if it can be strictly enforced – there should be no loop-holes or ways to circumvent the fundamental purpose.

In the absence of such a mechanism, prohibition makes no sense. It has been tried in many other countries and has failed. The U.S.A. tried this immediately after the Great Depression, and repealed it after some years when it was found to be unworkable.

It is a utopian concept to believe that states in India can enforce their moral will. For, consumption of alcohol is a matter of personal choice, and a tippler will find his own sources if he is determined to drink. Prohibiting the sale of alcohol will only drive the business underground, and open up all kinds of unseemly possibilities.

Isn’t it better to keep it legal and incorporate sensible checks and measures to ensure that the system is clean and regulated?

If not, many more will die.

And the debate will rage on every now and then whenever a tragedy, such as that in Gujarat, repeats itself.

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July 16, 2009 - Posted by | About this and that | , , ,

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