In Tamil Nadu, a spirited battle on prohibition

R Balaji Chennai | Updated on January 20, 2018

Tamil Nadu CM and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa at the start of her election campaign BIJOY GHOSH

Leaders start blame game; then and now, liquor revenue remains critical

Prohibition in Tamil Nadu has again taken centre stage with Chief Minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa promising to do away with liquor sales in stages if she is voted back to power in the Assembly elections.

In her address at the Island Grounds public meeting here on Saturday, marking the start of the AIADMK’s campaign for the elections scheduled for May 16, Jayalalithaa spoke at length on bringing in prohibition in stages, and the need to adopt a pragmatic approach to a problem that has lasted over a generation. She took this opportunity to break her silence on the one topic over which the entire opposition has a unified view even if that has not really united them.

Almost all the political parties — including the DMK, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Congress — have been demanding prohibition in recent years.

Big bucks

They have pointed to the rapid growth in liquor sales and the debilitating effect it has on youngsters and families. Liquor sales, which is controlled by the State government, brings in close to ₹30,000 crore annually to the exchequer and accounts for nearly one-third of the government’s revenue.

The parties have demonstrated individually and promised to bring in prohibition if they came to power. Their agitation reached fever pitch in mid-2015 after a social activist and Gandhian Sasi Perumal died during a protest.

At the election rally last week, Jayalalithaa took the opportunity to lambast the Opposition, particularly arch rival DMK and its leader M Karunanidhi, when she traced the evolution of the State’s approach to liquor sales. It was the DMK which had lifted the prohibition imposed in 1948 after it came to power in 1971, she recalled.

Jayalalithaa said she had thought long on the issue. Prohibition cannot be introduced at one go. If she is voted back to power, liquor sales will be curtailed in stages, with the number of shops reduced, working hours cut and rehabilitation centres set up before total prohibition is imposed, she added.

Karunanidhi retaliated on Sunday with a detailed statement on how the DMK government had brought back prohibition in 1974 during its regime and it was the subsequent AIADMK government which had permitted liquor sales in 1981. It was the AIADMK government that opened TASMAC liquor outlets across the State, and brought in low-priced liquor, he noted.

The DMK chief recalled that he had repeatedly explained then that prohibition had to be lifted because of Tamil Nadu’s financial condition. Also, with liquor available in neighbouring States, Tamil Nadu alone cannot maintain prohibition.

Published on April 10, 2016

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