‘Responsible drinking should replace demands for prohibition’

Lucknow, May 13 : Amid demands of prohibition by many social groups and allies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh, the liquor lobby not only thinks this is a "bad idea" and an "an impractical demand", but believes the government should instead pitch for "responsible and moderate drinking", according to a prominent stakeholder in the space.

Citing the example of neighbouring Bihar, where the imposition of prohibition has "boomeranged on the state in more ways than one", industry veteran Amrit Kiran Singh suggested the state government should back responsible and moderate drinking so as not to disturb the revenue model of the state and still minimise risks that consumption of liquor may cause to society and human lives.

"Liquor is as old as the Gods themselves... it was soma for the devtaas (gods) and sura for the rakshasas (devils). There are three things on which the entire industry is based. These are revenue, ease of doing business and curbing irresponsible drinking," Singh, the executive chairman of the Indian Spirits and Wines Association of India (ISWAI), told IANS in an interview, adding that in his opinion the Yogi Adityanath government in the state had come out with a good and transparent excise policy.

Singh said Excise Minister J.P. Singh had asked the industry to help the state government with the responsible drinking aspect. As a follow up, while a seminar was held in the state capital this week, the state police, with the help of funds given by liquor majors, were seeking to ensure that bacchus lovers understood their responsibilities.

"We are not trying to reinvent the wheel but, yes, the industry needs to be regulated and we are all for it," said Singh, whose Association includes blue chip multinational companies in the spirits and wines business -- Diageo, United Spirits Ltd, Pernod Ricard, Moet Hennessey, Beam Santori, Bacardi, Remy Martin, Brown Forman, William Grants and Edrington.

Pointing to a study conducted in two villages of Satara in Maharashtra -- where the Tata Institute of Social Sciences did extensive research on the effect of irresponsible drinking on the women, families and society - Singh said a similar study has been approved in principle in Uttar Pradesh as well.

"We are very encouraged by the forthrightness of the state government and we are ready to walk hand-in-hand with it to ensure that there is a balanced approach to alcohol," Singh said, adding that a certain segment of the industry had earmarked Rs 10 crore for promoting responsible drinking in Uttar Pradesh.

The three-month drive would comprise outdoor publicity with a focus on highways, radio commercials, capacity-building of traffic police personnel in all major cities of the state and the acquiring of hundreds of breath analysers to check drunken driving.

"We also propose that country liquor manufacturers do similar things with the consumers of its segment," Singh said.

Singh, who was also the Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce (comprising approximately 500 companies that have invested in India) and has travelled to 88 countries, says he is not just passionate about improving the image of the sector but also "understands realistically the objectives and responsibilities".

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at mohit.d@ians.in)



Source: IANS