Raipur: Chhattisgarh has become the second state in the country after Kerala to open state run liquor stores amidst the nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In an order issued by the Chhattisgarh State Marketing Corporation Limited, which controls the sale of liquor in the state, the state has decided reopen its stores, which had been closed on March 25. The move has been taken keeping in mind alcohol withdrawal symptoms in citizens.
The Congress government in the state had promised “purna nashabandi” or total prohibition in the state after it came to power but has hardly moved away from the existing liquor policies of the Raman Singh government. It had instead decided to levy a “gothan tax” (cess for cow shelters) of Rs 5 on every bottle of liquor sold.
Despite the announcement of a 21-day national lockdown by the Prime Minister from March 25, the state had issued a temporary order to close its liquor stores till March 31. It was then followed by an order to close the shops till April 7. The new order dated April 2 was released after office hours.
The total revenue collection from alcohol sale excise in the state is Rs 5,000 crore as compared to Kerala which gets an annual revenue of Rs 11,500 crore.
The order by the state government is detailed in how it wants to save the lives of alcohol consumer all over the state and how it is very concerned that some of them are attacking liquor stores to steal liquor.
It has not quantified how many people have died since the closure of liquor stores but the order says that “media reports have suggested people are dying from lack of availability of liquor and in the districts” they are dying by suicide. The order does not quote any survey the government may have done to arrive at its findings, nor does it say if it has consulted doctors.
The “media” that the order cites has so far reported two deaths in the state due to unavailability of liquor. Those reports have not been verified as post-mortems have not been conducted. An unverified video of a liquor store open in Raipur had gone viral three days ago.
A February 2019 report by doctors of AIIMS, Delhi, compiled at the direction of the Union ministry of social welfare, had found that while the nationwide percentage of people who drink stood at 15, in Chhattisgarh 35% of its population loves its liquor.
The decision comes at a time when social distancing is the norm and those who break the lockdown are being punished.
The Kerala government order had limited the freedom to those advised by doctors to be allowed to buy liquor. Meanwhile, the Kerala high court has stayed the government order for three weeks.
If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers they can call to speak in confidence. You could also accompany them to the nearest hospital.