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Govt of India proliferating liquor sale in J&K amidst 'extra-strong' action in Delhi

By Bharat Dogra* 

At a time of increasing concern worldwide over the highly adverse social and health impacts of alcohol as well as its increasing consumption, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has voluntarily remained a region of low alcohol consumption. Cultural as well as religious factors have played an important role in this -- the region is known for strong social traditions against liquor as well as for its several famous pilgrimage places of various religions.
Ignoring all this, unfortunately, the administration, which is run by the Government of India, has embarked on a policy of increasing liquor sales and consumption, leading to widespread discontent and opposition.
A large number of new places were identified earlier by the administration for establishing liquor sale points, as also reported in media. Now the latest decision announced very recently has been to allow the sale of beer and ready to drink alcohol beverages in departmental stores. 
These decisions and the overall pro-liquor policy of the administration are increasingly being seen as an assault on local culture and good traditions which will seriously harm health and social fabric.
Hence regardless of other differences, people are getting united in opposing this. Almost all leading opposition parties are opposing this and they are also reminding some senior BJP leaders of what happened to their earlier opposition to liquor. People of different religions and regions are one in opposing this highly damaging policy.
At a time when the government has taken extra-strong actions against AAP leaders of Delhi regarding corruption in liquor policy, questions are bound to be raised regarding for whose benefit the administration in J&K is going out of its way to increase liquor sales in a region which is otherwise known for low alcohol consumption. Will the government be as serious about investigating this as it was about investigating the alleged liquor scam in Delhi?
Although narrow-minded efforts have been made to depict this growing opposition as mainly coming from Muslim fundamentalist forces, the reality is that a leading secular political party like the Congress was among the first to condemn this policy in strong terms. The National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party have also condemned this policy clearly aimed at increasing liquor sales and consumption. Several women and youth organizations are very upset by this policy.
Here it should be remembered that according to the World Status report on Alcohol 2018 prepared by the WHO, in a typical year 3 million people die worldwide due to many-sided harmful impacts of liquor. 
This report tells us that in 2016, of all deaths attributable to alcohol consumption worldwide, 28.7% were due to injuries, 21.3% due to digestive diseases, 19% due to cardiovascular diseases, 12.9% due to infectious diseases and 12.6% due to cancers. Alcohol consumption is a leading cause of road and other accidents.
Explaining the situation further this report tells us that the health and social harms from drinking alcohol occur through three main interrelated mechanisms:
1) the toxic effects of alcohol on diverse organs and tissues in the consumer’s body (resulting, for instance, in liver disease, heart disease or cancer);
2) development of alcohol dependence whereby the drinker’s self-control over his or her drinking is impaired, often involving alcohol-induced mental disorders such as depression or psychoses; and
3) through intoxication – the psychoactive effects of alcohol in the hours after drinking
.The WHO report refers to expansive literature which shows that alcohol intoxication can increase dysphoria, cognitive dysfunction, impulsivity and intensity of suicidal ideation. People have approximately seven times increased risk for a suicide attempt soon after drinking alcohol, and this risk further increases to 37 times after heavy use of alcohol. 
The alcohol-attributable fraction for suicide was estimated to be as high as 18% It is also known that the presence of AUDs (Alcohol Use Disorders) at least doubles the risk of having depression.
This report points out that the potential effects of alcohol include impairment in attention, cognition and dexterity (which are important for such activities as driving a car); aggressive impulses and loss of behavioural control (important for criminal violence); and alcohol poisoning (which can be fatal).
Further this report tells us that alcohol poisoning is a consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much in a short period of time can affect breathing, heart rate, body temperature and gag reflex and may result in a coma and death. In comparisons with other psychoactive substances, alcohol is among the most lethal in terms of how close the amounts used for psychoactive effects are to the median amount that is lethal.
While poisoning clusters from contaminated alcohol often receive global press coverage, poisoning with ordinary beverage alcohol – usually in concentrated form such as distilled beverages – is an everyday reality in many societies, although it is often under-recorded in health statistics.
The harmful use of alcohol is a component cause of more than 200 diseases and injury conditions, the most notable being alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers and injuries, the latest causal relationships established are those between alcohol consumption and incidence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDs.
However, the alcohol industry and its lobbyists have worked overtime to ensure that the massive adverse impacts of alcohol consumption are not reported adequately and properly so that people do not become aware about the full dimensions of these tragic impacts.
A recent study led by scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute has concluded that the alcohol industry “uses denial, distortion and distraction to mislead people about the risks of developing cancer from drinking, often employing similar tactics to those of the tobacco industry." 
Earlier also heavy drinking was linked to damage to brain, adverse impact of memory and dementia, but recent findings by researchers of Oxford University and University College London ( published in British Medical Journal) has found that this damage is possible also at much lower alcohol consumption.
This is also confirmed by another study involving 1300 women in the USA. Brain damage is likely to be higher in the case of binge drinking, particularly binge drinking involving adolescents.
Although the highly adverse impacts of alcohol consumption are very well-known, the alcohol industry has been trying for quite some time to somehow spread the myth that moderate levels are not a problem.
However, an extensive study based on 195 countries which was published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet (August 2018) concluded clearly that not even one drink a day is safe. Max Griswold, lead author for a group of over 500 experts said, “There is no safe level of alcohol,” “Overall, the health risks associated with alcohol rose in line with the amount consumed each day." Compared to abstinence, just one drink a day can lead to 1,00,000 additional deaths each year.
The World Report on Violence and Health (WRVH) has drawn attention to the impact of alcohol in increasing crime and violence , including sexual violence. The WRVH says that both from the perspective of the assaulter and the victim, alcohol and drug consumption increases the risk of sexual violence, including rape.
According to a widely cited paper on ‘alcohol and sexual assaults’ by Antonia Abbey, Tina Zawacki and others of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (USA), “ atleast one half of all violent crimes involved alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim or both.
Sexual violence fits this pattern. Thus across disparate population studies, researchers consistently have found that approximately one half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking alcohol.
According to the WHO, alcohol consumption in adolescents, especially binge drinking, negatively affects school performance, increases participation in crime and leads to risky sexual behavior.
The WRVH report says that reducing the availability of liquor can be an important community strategy to reduce crime and violence as research has shown alcohol to be an importat situational factor that can precipitate violence.

There are very heavy social costs of alcohol consumption in the form of various forms of violence, crime and disruption of relationships. The WHO status report has presented various estimates that have been made from time to time about financial implications of these social costs:
i) Estimate for the European Union, Year 2003 - 125 billion euros
ii) Estimate for UK, Year 2009 – 21 billion pounds
iii) Estimate for USA, Year 2006 – 233 billion dollars
iv) Estimate for South Africa, Year 2009 – 300 billion Rand (10-12 per cent of GNP)
Keeping in view all these aspects, the recent efforts to increase alcohol consumption In Jammu and Kashmir ( as also in Himachal Pradesh, where sales in bigger departmental stores were approved some time back) should be widely opposed.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. Recent books include ‘Planet in Peril’, ‘A Day in 2071’, ‘Navjeevan’ and books in English and Hindi on adverse impacts of liquor

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