Could the Kallakurichi hooch tragedy have been averted?

The callousness of the government machinery in curbing the sale of spurious liquor led to this avoidable tragedy, the critics have said.
The Kallakurichi Government hospital was enveloped in group after one of the worst hooch tragedies in TN.
The Kallakurichi Government hospital was enveloped in group after one of the worst hooch tragedies in TN.(Express Photo | Sriram R)

The hooch tragedy in Kallakurichi that claimed as many as 37 lives has seen the MK Stalin government in Tamil Nadu draw flak from all corners.

AIADMK leader and former Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy has demanded that the Chief Minister own up to the failures which allowed the tragedy to happen and resign.

The callousness of the government machinery in curbing the sale of spurious liquor led to this avoidable tragedy, the critics have said. The victims, again, are daily wage workers who can't afford to buy Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) from The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (Tasmac).

Liquor illegally brewed in huts and sold in sachets for a price of around Rs 50 to the daily wage workers caused the tragedy.

The repeating hooch tragedies in the state point to lapses on the part of the prohibition wing of the police.

In Kallakurichi, as in many other places, locals complained that the cops were hand-in-glove with the brewers of spurious liquor. They said illegal brewing and sale of arrack in sachets has been taking place near the police station and police quarters.

Soon after the tragedy, Chief Minister Stalin said the government will deal with such crimes with an iron fist. But then again such proclamations aren't new.

The Kallakurichi Government hospital was enveloped in group after one of the worst hooch tragedies in TN.
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Soon after the twin hooch tragedies in Villupuram and Chengalpattu last year that claimed 22 lives, the police had announced that stringent action will be taken against illegal liquor brewers. The government said that the criminals will be booked under the goondas act. But look at where we find ourselves again.

The state also has a toll-free number to help informants pass on messages about prohibition offences free of cost. But without a change in the socio-economic conditions of the people, a transformation is unlikely.

Prohibition can help?

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) MP D Ravikumar recalled that when the twin hooch tragedy struck last year, the Tamil Nadu health minister Ma Subramanian affirmed that the source of methanol will be tracked to curb availability of chemical compound for illegal liquor brewing.

"This tragedy wouldn't have happened if the state government had walked the talk then," he reminded.

Ravikumar suggested stringent action against the brewers, sellers and the prohibition wing police personnel since it is a case of murder and abetment of murder respectively. Mere suspension of police personnel for negligence is not punishment enough for crimes of this nature, he added.

"Honest and efficient officers should be posted in the prohibition wing," Ravikumar further said. The prohibition wing should be placed at par with the anti-terror wing because in a state like Tamil Nadu more lives are lost to spurious liquor than to terror.

Ravikumar suggested enforcing prohibition in the country to avert such tragedies.

State governments presently say that liquor brings revenue for the exchequer at a time when many other financial taps have run dry for them. With this being the case, the Centre should consider extending tax concessions to states that implement prohibition to encourage the measure, he said.

Dalit writer and activist Shalin Maria Lawrence begged to differ with Ravikumar.

Liquor is sought after by people for the purpose of leisure, as a therapy and finally, to get rid of their pains. People who are forced to do menial, back-breaking work do drink, she said.

"You cannot go to them and dictate not to drink. That's moral policing," she stressed.

In a society where there is exploitation of labour, caste discrimination and all kind of social evils, the priority should be to improve the socio-economic conditions of the people and ensure quality education to all. The rest will fall in place, she said.

The Kallakurichi Government hospital was enveloped in group after one of the worst hooch tragedies in TN.
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'Exercise in madness with no method'

Experts who have studied prohibition say it has not been found to yield results .

"The upholding of high moral ground in the state’s world of realpolitik seems to be an exercise in madness with no method," Ramanath Jha on Bihar prohibition: An unmitigated disaster wrote in a paper for the Observer Research Foundation.

"One of the axioms of governance is that any policy with political, social, economic, or other value ought to be first examined in the scale of implementability. What is not implementable may not be operationalised despite the nobility of the cause," he says.

It is then incumbent on any state that first embarks on the road to prohibition to study what happened to other countries and states that ventured down that path. In the United States, for instance, after the prohibition imposition in 1920, authorities reported increased consumption of adulterated alcohol...

He sums up saying that prohibition has little chance of success and will only benefit illegal brewers and their likes.

When it comes to the hooch tragedy, to prohibit or not to prohibit is not then the right question.

The Kallakurichi Government hospital was enveloped in group after one of the worst hooch tragedies in TN.
Tamil Nadu must end illicit liquor menace

'Establish rehab units in every district'

Director Pa. Ranjith, while reacting to the Kallakurichi deaths, expressed shock and sadness over the tragedy. He condemned the Tamil Nadu government and the police department whose callousness had caused the tragedy.

He demanded stringent punishment for the officials and police personnel who failed to prevent the tragedy. The government should also ensure that such tragedies do not recur.

Ranjith demanded that the Tamil Nadu government establish rehabilitation centres for addicts in all districts.

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