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Doctors reject Kerala govt order to prescribe liquor to addicts

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on March 31, 2020 Published on March 31, 2020

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To observe protest day on Wednesday

The Kerala Government Medical Officers Association (KGMOA) has objected to a State government order to prescribe liquor to addicts to prevent suicides. The government decision was prompted by at least 10 cases of suicide by addicts or acute withdrawal symptoms after liquor became unavailable post-lockdown.

Joseph Chacko, President of KGMOA, said on Tuesday that doctors would abstain from duty if they are proceeded against for refusal to prescribe liquor to addicts. They will observe protest day on Wednesday by wearing black badges while on duty.

Controlled quantities

The Revenue/Excise departments issued orders on Monday evening allowing for dispensing liquor in controlled quantities to addicts based on referral/recommendation in writing by doctors from government hospitals, including ESI hospitals.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had broached the issue last week, which was rejected by doctors, citing ethical issues. The State government advocates restraint in consumption, rather than enforcing prohibition.

Indian Medical Association (IMA) too dismissed the proposal as unscientific. State president Abraham Varghese said withdrawal symptoms should be scientifically treated either at home or as in-patients in hospitals. “Doctors have no legal liability to prescribe liquor. In fact, it could even result in the cancellation of their licences,” he said.

Applying for supplies

The government order issued on Monday said patients, or persons assigned by them, should attach the doctor’s referral/recommendation along with Aadhaar card/voters ID/driving licence to the nearest Excise Range Office/Circle Office for sanction of supply of liquor.

The issuing office shall inform the Managing Director of Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC), the monopoly seller and distributor, for endorsement. No outlet of the KSBC or the Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation shall be opened for the purpose.

The government has every reason to push liquor sale, not least for its significant revenue implications, says Jose Sebastian, a public finance expert, and formerly faculty at the Gulati Institute for Finance and Taxation. It realises three forms of revenue from liquor: state excise duty, sales tax and dividends paid by the KSBC. In 2010-11, the KSBC paid a dividend of 800 per cent to the government. Total contribution of liquor to the State’s Own Revenue in 2016-17 was 20.42 per cent. No other State is as much dependent on liquor as Kerala is.

Major revenue source

Compared with other States, Keralites consume only Indian Made Foreign liquor (IMFL) whose value is higher due to high levels of local taxation. The higher levies were originally aimed at discouraging consumption.

But this has apparently not had any deterrent effect and only helped boost the State’s revenues. With a ban on arrack in place, the poorer sections are forced to cough up a significant portion of their daily income on costly IMFL. This explains why addicts, most of them belonging to these sections, are forced to end lives when supplies dry up.

TABLE: Per capita liquor consumption in major Indian states 2011-12

State

Per capita liquor consumption

Quantity in litres

Value in Rs.

Andhra Pradesh

9.02

606.37

Bihar

3.89

103.41

Gujarat

0.73

33.16

Haryana

1.62

201.27

Karnataka

1.45

295.61

Kerala

2.31

489.03

Madhya Pradesh

1.99

153.38

Maharashtra

1.03

153.28

Odisha

1.91

94.10

Punjab

2.52

450.07

Rajasthan

1.59

162.39

Tamil Nadu

1.29

330.98

Uttar Pradesh

0.50

73.63

West Bengal

1.14

97.05

Source: National Sample Survey Organisation

Published on March 31, 2020
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