Hooch tragedy, yet again
The twin hooch tragedies resulted in the death toll rising over 100 in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. The incident has led to several arrests, suspensions, and ex gratia compensation in the same manner as always. Hooch incident, unfortunately, is a recurring peril. Gujarat alcohol poisonings (2009), Sangrampur methanol tragedy (2011), Bengal (2011 & 2015), Odisha (2012), Mumbai alcohol poisoning incident (2015), Bihar (2016), have all led to deaths of people and further hospitalisation due to the consumption of spurious liquor illicitly circulated. Over 136 people lost their lives due to toxic moonshine in Gujarat, leading the state assembly to introduce a bill calling for death penalty to those convicted in illicit liquor trade. While Gujarat showed what needs to be done to control such misadventures, the problem was not essentially curbed especially since Gujarat, being a dry state, has a high bootlegging environment. In a similar way, deterrents have contributed less in the prevention of such incidents. While dry states have an active problem of bootlegging, the other states suffer from illicit liquor rackets as much only due to the product in consideration. Alcohol has, for long been an integral and prevalent part of the adult world ensuing undesirable ramifications for both individual health and society. Being highly addictive has made liquor one of the highest taxed commodities and practically a boon for the exchequer. However, in the wake of the detrimental outcome that it drives the society to, liquor regulation and safety standards come under scrutiny more often. The problem should not be the product, for even poison is readily available in the stores, but the regulation. An addictive substance like alcohol needs twice the amount of regulation with revised safety standards as a normal product regulated under the state's supervision. Alcohol, being a state subject, has varied laws and regulations and hence a solution will also have to be customised to fit all the states. It is, indeed, the lacunas in the regulation that have plagued the nation with recurring cases of hooch tragedies and no glaring safeguards. 9,269 litres of hooch was seized in UP while 1,066 litres was recovered from Uttrakhand. Collectively, that amount of spurious liquor is enough to kill a large audience. The intention, therefore, of these hooch traders is no less than a terrorist. Still, hooch tragedies have been occurring and the government granting compensation and suspending officers from the excise department or so for the purpose of getting over with the adverse situation. Adequate regulation has clearly been misunderstood in this country since the convenient option under severe circumstances is resorting to a ban. It is to note that extreme laws do not settle problems of the society at the root. Restrictive policies, in the first place, are the reason black market exchange exists. In turn, these pose threat to the safety standards, jeopardising public health and causing extreme social problems. Hike in prices also does not help the regulation paradigm since it conveniently paves way for cheap and poor-quality substitutes which are injurious if not fatal. The Uttarakhand-UP hooch tragedy has seen over 200 people arrested and Rs 2 lakh ex gratia compensation announced but lives lost and absolutely no concern raised regarding the recurring evil which requires our immediate attention. In 2017, the Supreme Court had banned the sale of liquor near national and state highways over the increased incidence of drunk driving, citing that such a law was passed in "overwhelming public interest". Later, the Apex Court clarified that the ban was not to be considered under the limits of the cities which allowed the temporarily shut businesses to resume. This sort of intervention did pose as an active solution to societal adversity like drunk driving. The illicit alcohol traders are not licensed and thus accountability is nil. While the police and Excise departments are tasked with handling illegal trading, policy regulation demands a holistic approach. Black market exchange exists due to the unavailability of alcohol at the time, place, or price. Since liquor is a huge contributor in the taxes, norms regarding it can be duly revised to check its distribution with respect to time, place, and price. At the ground level, carrying out a comprehensive analysis of traders along with instances of bootlegging will aid in the prevention of any such disaster. It is crucial to understand that banning alcohol in UP-Uttarakhand is not the requisite response to the unfortunate incident. Rather a policy revision will yield much more. Further, the affected population is usually the lower class and hence targeted awareness invariably becomes a necessity for their drive to consume is above anything – as evident by the social and health problems that ensue because of constant consumption. Overlooking this hooch tragedy will cost us again, so it is better to pay heed to it and intervene and draw reasonable safeguards for the future.