The third phase of lockdown starting Monday brought some good news for tipplers. The Indian Government decided to open standalone liquor shops after 40 days in all areas except for containment zones. The order came with the directive to follow social distancing norms, and not more than five people allowed at one time.
What followed this decision was sheer negligence on the part of citizens. According to ground reports, people thronged to the vends from morning itself even though the opening time is around 11 am. There were long queues of people waiting to get a bottle of their favourite brand. Pictures are showing chaotic scenes with people tripping over one another to claim their bottles of liquor. With lines extending for meters and people flouting social distancing norms, is the decision to open the liquor shops a wise one?
There is no doubt to the fact that liquor sale is a significant source of revenue for the State Government. The record-breaking sale of over 300 crores registered on the first day is a testimony of the same. However, the same day, the Government also recorded the highest spike in COVID cases across the country. There is no evidence to prove the number of cases that may have happened due to the opening of the liquor shops. But the possibilities are that the number of cases will increase if people continue to flock the liquor shops.
While the economic slowdown is at its peak, collecting quick funds through alcohol sales is the rationale of the Government behind its decision. Yet, it seems that our policymakers did not foresee the ripple effect that came with the order. Within two days, there are cases of drunk driving registered by the police. People are seen bickering on the streets, and ramming their cars in walls after being intoxicated. The law and order situation is at stake in various places.
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All this at a time when the police are occupied with a lot more than usual. In an ideal situation, the police would have been enforcing the lockdown. But here it is, trying to control desperate people by requesting them, pleading them or at times even hitting them. In places such as Vishakhapatnam, the Government has deployed school teachers to control massive crowds outside liquor shops. The move has drawn flak from various quarters and has made it clear that the Government across states are under-prepared to deal with the consequences of this decision.
At this point, when the overall cases have crossed Fifty thousand mark, is it inevitable for Governments to risk the lives of its citizens by opening liquor shops. Despite hikes in the alcohol tax in various states, people are still swarming to the shops. Given this case, are we not exposing the people to a double-sided sword where they can either be carriers of the virus or affect their health by drinking alcohol.
The decision also has its implications at the micro-level. With reports of rampant domestic abuse, making rounds all over the news, the route of intoxication will make matters worse. Further, with most people going jobless or facing salary cuts, can the Government afford to allow them to spend a chunk of their savings on alcohol? Is the Government so desperate that it cannot sustain itself for some more days?
At present, the pandemic has brought in several problems hovering the Government. To add to it, the liquor shops have left it with another set of issues to deal with. What happens next is not known, but one thing is sure, the Government is likely to face the brunt of its decision in the coming days
The views and opinions expressed in this opinion article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Eastern Herald.