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Supreme Court order throws financial challenge at state

The Supreme Court has left the ruling dispensation in Tamil Nadu tripping by posing a financial challenge. In ordering the closure of liquor shops on state and national highways, which account for over a third of the total number of TASMAC shops in the state, the Supreme Court has put the state government, particularly its financial planners, understandably, in a piquant situation.

Supreme Court order throws financial challenge at state
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Tipplers queue outside a TASMAC outlet in a residential area in Paramakudi town

Chennai

It was more hard hitting than the troubles caused to the ruling party by the opposition and activists, whenever they use prohibition as a political tool to challenge the ruling party.  

For a state, which silently regretted losing Rs 2,100 crore from closure of 1,000 shops (most of it were shops with low patronage) since May 2016, closing roughly 35 per cent of its outlets (1,731 liquor shops) would be more than a prick. 

Consider the fiscal deficit projections surpassing the mandatory 3 per cent of state GDP and liquor and fuel tax being the only sources of direct revenue, the government would have some serious revenue shortfall to overcome. On the brighter side, the government has at least two possible options which could help it politically. 

First, find ways to circumvent the SC order or rather open new shops in conformity with the SC order to manage the revenue shortfall. But, it would give ammunition to the opposition to accuse the state of promoting alcohol consumption despite the ruling party promising prohibition in its poll manifesto. 

Secondly, the government could consider alternate sources of revenue generation to make good the revenue loss from liquor and capitalise on the order. Choosing the second option might be socially and politically wise, suggests critic and environmentalists like Poovulagin Sundar Rajan. 

“It is dangerous for a government to rely on liquor revenue. Government could regularise contract carriage Omni bus operation and generate money from that. Also, regularisation of sand mining will fetch more revenue than liquor. It will also help protect the environment. 

Private players are making unlimited money from sand. Government can offset the revenue loss by considering the alternate means. Even in an economic perspective, the health cost (money spent on treating liver disease) the government pays for liquor is higher than the revenue it fetches from its sale. Instead of seeing it as a challenge, the government could use the opportunity to hasten enforcement of prohibition. To begin with, they should open more deaddiction centres and counselling centres.” 

Politically, the government would stand to benefit from downing the shutters of 1,731 shops as it would help the ruling dispensation as being committed in enforcement of prohibition.

It’s turn of TASMAC staff to stage protests

The fate of nearly 4,000 TASMAC employees, who were working in the closed outlets in the central districts, hangs in the balance.

They have received no information about their redeployment from the department so far. They were clueless about their future. Agitated over the situation, the TASMAC employees’ union had planned a series of protests in the coming days. More than 850 shops have been listed for closure following the Supreme Court direction on Saturday in the Delta districts. Sources in the regional office of TASMAC said, with the court orders, the department previously closed around 150 outlets among the 500 in the state and around 400 employees of the closed outlets were adjusted and shifted to the existing outlets then and the employees heaved a great sigh of relief as they were ensured of employment despite the outlets were overstaffed. However, the second blow from the Supreme Court to remove the outlets situated on the highways has come as a rude shock for them. The officials have enumerated nearly 850 shops to be closed after this order. “Each outlet used to have at least three to four employees and after the reshuffling of the workers with the already closed outlets, we have more than five workers in each outlet and still we have no direction about the redeployment of these workers,” an official on condition of anonymity said. “Already, 10 per cent of TASMAC employees including supervisors, salesmen and assistant salesmen are put on reserve category after deploying the workers during the first phase of closure. And now, the department has not given any clear order about their employment post the present round of closure,” said TASMAC employees’ union office-bearers in Tiruchy. “When we contacted the officials, they refused to give a valid response. So, we would convene a meeting of the union members and would go on a series of protests,” stressed an office-bearer.

Tipplers line up at outlets in interior areas 

After the closure of liquor shops located on state and National highways, tipplers started thronging the shops in residential areas causing trouble to the residents and children. 

The state, late on Friday night closed the liquor vending outlets on the highways following the Supreme Court orders. At Rameswaram, more than 15 shops except one has been closed and the remaining one shop is located close to Pamban Railway station. 

The Rameswaram island which witnesses thousands of devotees every year has been suffering from the menace of tipplers and the closure of all the shops has been welcomed by the tourists and traders in the pilgrimage town. Ganapathy, who has been running a hotel near Rameswaram temple, said that there was a liquor shop located close to the temple and many devotees, specifically women and children faced trouble because of it. “Now, due to the Supreme Court order all the shops in Rameswaram has been closed and the only shop in Rameswaram open at present is at a distance of 15 km from the temple. It is such a great  relief to the devotees and tourists,” he said. Another problem which cropped up with the closure of liquor shops on highways is the queuing of tipplers in the outlets located in residential areas. At Paramakudi in Ramanathapuram district, the shops located on the main road had been closed and only the shops in the market and the residential areas are open. Because of this, the tipplers head straight to these outlets in residential areas. 

“We are feeling insecure. A liquor shop located at the entrance of our locality is now heavily crowded. The tipplers keep pouring in to our utter discomfort,” said Monica Devi, a resident of Chinnakadai locality in Paramakudi town. 

“The annual examinations for the children are over and they are enthused to play on the roads. On Saturday, they cannot go out and enjoy themselves as there is a long queue before the TASMAC outlet. As parents, we are not confident to send them out to play with so many tipplers around,” she added. The residents demanded the officials to shift the TASMAC outlet in their locality to a deserted place in the outskrits of the Paramakudi town. 

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