According to a recent report in a leading Hindi newspaper of Himachal Pradesh Amar Ujala (April 6), the Himachal government is seriously considering a proposal to start selling liquor at petrol pumps and gas stations. The government is reportedly in favor of taking forward the recommendations of a legislative committee to this effect.
This has led to increasing concerns about road safety. The hill roads here are known for their high rates of accidents. As a random check, take up newspaper files for almost any month and you will be saddened by the many distressing reports of deaths and injuries in road accidents. Conversations with experienced local drivers reveal that drunken driving is a very frequent cause of accidents.
The signs put up on roads saying drinking and driving do not mix warn about the dangers of drunken driving. Several studies at the national level have clearly revealed drunken driving to be a major cause of road accidents, and the possibility of this on hill roads and highways is definitely higher.
In fact it is due to these safety risks that policies and rules in many parts of country have been asking for alcohol shops and vends to be located at some distance away from highways and important roads.
Under the circumstances it is deeply worrying that a state-level decision to sell liquor in petrol pumps and gas stations may be taken. This should be opposed and checked in the interests of safety.
Apart from road safety in addition safety of women is also adversely affected by easy availability of liquor on highways and roads. On a festive day when I was returning to Delhi on Solan Kalka Highway, a I saw a very ugly spat between drunk young men and women. It appeared that they were part of the same group of revelers from Chandigarh but after getting drunk the men turned very indecent right on the road and then the quarrel started.
In the context of such incidents objection has been raised even earlier to sale of alcohol close to highways. In fact recently when I went to buy apple juice from a shop located very close to a highway, an elderly lady customer had entered into a heated argument with the shopkeeper for stocking a lot of wine along with fruit juice and pickles etc. She said that as fruit juice shops should not be allowed to stock wine . The shopkeeper said that he is an authorized government dealer and he can sell fruit wine. He said rather weakly that wine is also made from fruit. Upon this the lady got more angry and told him that wine has much higher alcohol content than beer.
Apart from safety aspects there is another worrying trends reported from Himachal Pradesh and some other hill areas as well that highly nutritious fruits are being diverted from direct consumption to the production of wine on a large scale.
First a leading newspaper Dainik Jagran reported last year that apples as well as other highly nutritious fruits in the state will be diverted on a large scale for production of wine and the existing processing facilities of a public sector unit will be made available to a private company for taking this new wine to many parts of country. Then another news appeared last year in another leading newspaper Navbharat Times that along with fruits special Kangra Tea Leaves will be used to prepare tea wine with alcohol content of 12 per cent ( much higher than beer) . According to the news report a government science lab is being used to prepare this and a private company has been contracted to sell this as tea wine on a large scale.
It is very worrying that even such a staple drink as tea which is consumed by an overwhelming majority of people in the country is being imitated to prepare an alcoholic drink based on tea leaves with a high alcohol content and at the same time fruits are being diverted for the production of this wine, at the time that children from poor families in this apple-producing state find it very difficult to eat apples.
It is likely that soon there will be a drive by unlicensed shops to sell these new forms of liquor, as can already by seen as some general merchants and fruit juice shops are seen selling fruit based wine. What is even worse is that high alcohol content drink or liquor is being promoted for health benefits, a trend which has already been exposed for all its falsehood, deceit and pressures of liquor lobby in the context of red wine.
It is now well known that the completely false promotion of red wine as a healthy drink led to massive damage to health and a huge increase in liver disease as well as other serious health problems in many parts of world. The same tragedy will be repeated in India on an even larger scale when fruit wine and tea wine are promoted for their false health benefits while covering up the conspiracy of the liquor lobby in taking liquor to more and more people.
Hence this dangerous trend and the distorted thinking behind it should be checked as early as possible. However the more immediate damage just now is of checking the decision process relating to sale of liquor at petrol pumps.
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His recent books include When the Two Streams Met ( on the freedom movement ) and Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times).