In spite of the brouhaha surrounding prohibition, a subject that has often courted political controversy in Tamil Nadu, the tipplers in the State have proven their loyalty to liquor yet again. Last week, it was reported by the State Minister for Electricity, Prohibition and Excise, V Senthilbalaji that total liquor sales in 2021-22 touched Rs 36,013.14 cr compared to last year’s figures of Rs 33,811.15 cr, essentially registering a six per cent growth. Sources had revealed that owing to the pandemic induced lockdowns and restrictive operational hours, the revenue from Tasmac in 2019-20 and 2020-21 was just Rs 33,000 cr.
Seeing the potential of the sales of alcoholic beverages in Tamil Nadu, Tasmac has invited manufacturers with distilleries and wineries in other states to register and supply liquor and wines in Tamil Nadu, to offer more variety to customers here. Interestingly 540 new liquor brands were released in the market in 2021-22 compared to 478 brands from the year before. As far as revenues are concerned, the state marketing agency is a cash cow. Those arguing in favour of prohibition without considering the damage it can wreck on the finances of a State, only need to take a look at Bihar. The State is one of the poorest regions of India and a prohibition has been in place there since the last six years. Has that helped resuscitate its economic well-being? The answers are far from convincing. The loss from enforcement of prohibition in Bihar was estimated at Rs 50,000 cr over the past six years.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who claims to have taken 1.5 cr people off the bottle, embarked upon a series of draconian laws to enforce prohibition. As per a 2018 amendment, the penalty for first time offenders caught drinking alcohol was Rs 50,000. Now, that sum has been brought down to Rs 2,000-5,000 as decided by the executive magistrate. This was after the Supreme Court lambasted the Bihar government for the pile-up of cases pertaining to liquor offences in courts, especially regarding bails. About 4.45 lakh people have been arrested in the State on Prohibition-related charges.
The case study of Bihar offers a cautionary tale on governance. Over the last one year, over 150 people have died in the State, consuming spurious liquor or hooch that has eased the flow of black money into the State, another reason for revenue loss. Even the Madhya Pradesh CM, Shivraj Singh Chauhan acknowledged this saying there was a need to prepare society against the consumption of alcohol, before imposition of a ban. In the absence of such readiness, the business of spurious liquor flourishes. Madhya Pradesh had recently introduced a new liquor policy that offers people greater access to alcoholic beverages.
Tamil Nadu is the second most industrious State in India, trailing behind Maharashtra. Its capital Chennai has often carried the burden of being a traditional industrial hotspot, as compared to the cosmopolitan Bengaluru, which is seen as Silicon Valley of the East, due to the proliferation of the IT crowd, and the lifestyle that is now a part of that city, which includes a culture of social drinking.
Keeping in mind personal liberties of an individual, which includes a choice to consume alcohol as well, the State must focus more on enforcement that keeps such products out of the reach of under-aged consumers and providing a corporate rigour to Tasmac’s operation, something which is already in progress. Striking a balance between the moral measures to implement, and the profitable things to do might be the government’s challenge in the days to come.