The per capita consumption of liquor in our Islands is 13 litres far ahead of the national average of 4.3 litres. The data on alcoholism and extent of liquor sales in the Islands indicate the abyss, that we are heading to. Illicit brew, hooch tragedies or tourism aren't enough justification against total prohibition anymore.

By Zubair Ahmed

The earthquake of 2004, which shook the ground beneath our feet and the killer waves of tsunami which took away many lives and razed down properties worth crores still remains etched in our memory, bringing back nightmares of the scary days and nights that followed. We mourn the death and loss. But, we are conveniently caught unaware about a more disturbing scourge shaking the very foundation of our existence. Alcoholism is devouring the Islands and the Islanders like never before. This plague does not discriminate between rich or poor, villager or townsman, young or old, rural or urban, tourist or Islander.

Last year on Teachers Day, a group of senior students of a rural school in South Andaman came up with a shocking idea. Following the footsteps of a few teachers, they came to classes to teach in fully inebriated state. They were drunk! A bunch of students from another school were found near a waterfall, again drunk!

Undoubtedly, alcoholism is stunting the overall social and economical growth making the majority of the miniscule population of the Islands addicted to this scourge. The fervor shown by those at the helm to make the bottomline of the corporation - entrusted to sell this poison - look impressive by promoting sale of liquor indicates the utter disregard or apathy towards the well being of the people. No wellness centre or seminar can compensate the enduring loss to human resource in the Islands. When the authorities were seen making calls to the bar owners demanding increase in sales pitch shows their lack of concern and skewed priorities.

The extent of damage is beyond imagination. The devil lies in the details. The Island population of 4 lakhs and a couple of lakh tourists consumed not less than 52 lakh litres of liquor in 2015-16, an increase of 2.21 lakh litres from 2014-15. ANIIDCO, the sole distributor of IMFL sold liquor for Rs 150 crores last year and made a profit of Rs 16.36 crores from liquor sales alone out of Rs 19.03 crores net profit of the Corporation. All other heads including POL, milk, steel, air ticketing and tourism activities combined made a profit of just Rs 2.66 crores.

Out of total sale of 52 lakh litres, 37.11 lakh litres of hard liquor, 15.17 lakh litres of beer and 0.39 lakh litres of Ready to Drink (RTD) alcoholic beverages were sold in 2015-16.

While South Andaman consumed 35.58 lakh litres, other Islands from Campbell Bay to N&M Andaman consumed 17.10 lakh litres.

What is astonishing is the fact that Little Andaman with no proper boat connectivity and a population less than 20,000, with no mentionable tourism footfall consumed liquor to the tune of Rs 7.17 crores while Havelock, the face of brand Andaman, the tourism paradise, registered liquor sale of Rs 7.18 crores. There are 5 bars in Little Andaman and 12 bars in Havelock.

Port Blair and surrounding areas of South Andaman with around 125 bars registered a sale of Rs 102 crores, 68% of the total liquor sales in the territory.

In outstation sales, Rangat spent Rs 12.83 crores consuming 4.58 lakh litres and Diglipur with a population of 43183 consumed 4.43 lakh litres spending Rs 12.42 crores in the year 2015-16. Mayabunder residents spent Rs 80.13 lakh consuming 2.85 lakh litres of liquor. Diglipur has 19 bars and one ANIIDCO wine shop. In Mayabunder and Rangat, there are 6 bars and one wine shop each.

Ready to Drink (RTD) alcoholic beverages have alarmingly made inroads with its consumption rising every year. From 25,034 ltrs in 2013-14 to 39,332 litres in 2015-16, there has been a steep increase of 14298 litres in two years. A lot of youngsters, especially those trying out alcoholic beverages for the first time opt for Ready-to-Drink bottled beverages with alcoholic content. This is how initiation is happening among the young generation especially school going children, eventually shifting to hard liquor. RTD seems to be  socially acceptable, and preferred by youngsters and women.

According to NSSO, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Daman & Diu, Sikkim, and, Puducherry are clearly among the highest consumers of alcohol and spirits in the country.

On the WHO’s ‘Years of Life Lost’ (YLL) scale  – a measure of premature mortality – alcohol attributed years of life lost puts India on a precarious 4 on a scale of 1 to 5.

While the national per capita consumption of liquor is 4.3 litres, our Islands is far ahead with 13 litres.

Its widely accepted and acknowledged that suicide deaths are on a steep rise in our Islands. The Islands figure among the top three states in suicide rates. Alcoholism overtly or covertly plays a decisive role in such deaths. In the last five years, 701 suicides were reported in the Islands. Last year, 158 cases of suicides were reported. 38% of suicide cases are either alcoholism-related or broken families or depression.

Humane Touch, a voluntary organization actively working against alcoholism in South Andaman recently conducted a survey in two wards of Bindraban panchayat. The data from the two wards of the obscure Panchayat was quite shocking. Out of 100 families surveyed, 72 families were affected by alcoholism. Out of 195 males, 111 consumed alcohol. In the last ten years, seven suicides and 15 alcohol related deaths were reported from these two wards. Out of 111 males who consumes liquor, there were 23 addicts. And, out of 100 families, 34 families are under serious financial duress due to alcoholism of the head of the family or the sole bread earner.

Peddlers buy bottles from ANIIDCO run wine shops and peddle it in villages. Police also find it difficult to check this menace as they carry bills. If one checks the number of cases registered at each police station, the highest number would be cases related with excise violations. But, do the data have any bearing on our policing? They keep filing cases against violators and still violation keeps going on. The graph never shows a declining trend in cases related with excise. Out of 3800 cases registered in 2014, 1933 cases were related to Excise Regulation, more than 50% cases!

Whenever, the issue of complete prohibition is raised, the scarecrow named hooch tragedies are cited extensively. As per data available, since independence till 2016, hardly 2000 people died in hooch tragedies in the country, whereas, our country registers more than 3 million deaths attributed to alcohol consumption alone every year as per data released by NSSO. Alcoholism is one of the leading causes of liver cirrhosis and failure. About 10 percent of strokes, tuberculosis, hypertension, and epilepsy are caused by excess alcohol consumption.

It's a farce that the Islands need liquor to sustain tourism. The figures from Rangat, Diglipur and Hutbay says a different story. The amount of alcohol consumed by the Islanders is shocking, which will have devastating long term effect on the socio-economic condition and health of the Islanders. If the trend is not arrested by bringing in total prohibition, all the efforts by the Administration and Govt of India to develop the territory would make no sense. Comparatively, the revenue from liquor makes no major financial contribution to the exchequer, but the social cost is very high with people spending more on health. Every rupee the government gets off the bottle, it loses more than Rs. 2 in terms of healthcare expenses and lost productivity. Road accidents are also on the rise with many young lives wasted due to drunken driving. 

Had the hard earned money of Rs 100 crores spent on liquor by Islanders spent on families, it would have brought positive changes in their living standards.

Its high time the Administration wakes up and takes drastic steps to check this menace or the future of the Islands with an unhealthy and unproductive population looks very bleak. The logic that prohibition doesn't work is a lame excuse to continue with the status quo. For an healthy and active Andamans, prohibition seems to be the only way out, after all, prohibition is also a directive principle in our Constitution under Article 47.