Like it or hate it, the MDMK and PMK have a point when they claim that the free flow of alcohol in Tamil Nadu has led to moral degradation. Analyse police records and you will find a growing relationship between alcohol and crime, including domestic abuse and violence, underage drinking, murder, robbery, assault and sexual assault. The recent gang-rape in Delhi of a 23-year-old in a bus by five men, who were reportedly drunk, is but a sober reminder of potential evils of alcohol.
One area where the problem gets particularly acute is drink-driving. According to a 2012 report published by two experts in the IRACST (International Journal of Research in Management and Technology), India has the dubious distinction of having the most number of fatal road accidents in the world. “India accounts for about 10 per cent of road accident fatalities worldwide,” the report says. “A major contributor to traffic deaths is drunk driving, responsible for 70 per cent of road fatalities.”
In Tamil Nadu, their statistics show there were 14,359 fatal accidents in 2011-12 — up by 118 as compared to 14,241 in 2010-11. After investigation, 4,987 driving licences were suspended and 178 cancelled in 2011-12, while only 48 driving licences were cancelled during last year. In Chennai, 3,855 more drink-driving cases were booked last year (19,436) as against the year before last (15,581).
“Drunken driving is the most serious menace where road accidents are concerned,” says Karunasagar, Additional Commissioner (Traffic). “A number of road accidents are caused by drunkenness.”
The police consider a person inebriated and unfit to drive if he has over 10 mg of alcohol in his blood stream. “Alcohol affects your senses and reflexes and makes you aggressive,” the he points out. “You become carefree…you think you are God Almighty and become unconcerned about your safety and the safety of others.” Alcohol induces an artificial ‘high’ that is temporary. No wonder, with the proliferation of State-run Tasmac units, 65,873 drunken driving accidents were registered in 2011-12 across Tamil Nadu, an increase of 877 cases as compared to 2010-11 (64,996). All cases of traffic violations, including drink driving, are booked under the Motor Vehicle Act. In cases of drink-driving, the vehicle is impounded and the driver is made to undergo a breath analyser test. He is taken to a hospital, where a doctor issues a certificate on his inebriated condition. The driver is ‘challaned’ and he pays the penalty in court and redeems his vehicle.
In fatal cases, the accused is booked under Section 304(A) of IPC for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. His driving licence could be suspended or cancelled. But you can’t treat him as a criminal. “The accused are not criminals or murderers, but normal people, who take to drinking and driving,” the police say.
The situation is better in places like Chennai, where the traffic police are more equipped and have more manpower. In the districts, till about a year ago, cops didn’t have the powers to impose ‘spot fines’ for traffic violations. “We just booked cases. That’s all,” a police officer recalls. The change came in February last, when district police were empowered to impose spot-fines.
Given the body of evidence linking alcohol with crime, should there be total prohibition? The police don’t think it is a good idea. While conceding that alcohol results in drunken brawls, murder and accidents, they feel prohibition could lead to other problems. “Those who are habituated to drink will find a way to get their daily fix,” a senior police officer says. That could lead to a thriving black market. The best way out is to make enforcement of traffic laws stricter. “We can also introduce smart cards in which violations by an individual are recorded. If they cross a threshold, the person loses his driving licence permanently,” a police officer suggests.