Decision to open liquor shops in TN smacked of nexus of liquor lobby and favouritism

    11-May-2020
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According to TASMAC website, out of the total 18 distilleries and breweries, a majority of them are owned by the AIADMK and DMK leaders.  Dravidian parties have all indulged in politics of liquor during elections to win favors from voters. Their symbolic opposition only smacks of double standards.
- TS Venkatesan 
 
TN Tasmac_1  H
 
The decision to open TASMAC liquor shops in Tamil Nadu was met with stiff opposition from BJP, PMK, and other parties. However, even as Madras High Court on 8th May ordered immediate closure of all shops till end of lockdown, the customary oppostion expressed by DMK had exposed its double standards. 
 
The Edapadi K Palaniswamy led government on 4th May had decided to open TASMAC liquor outlets in the State except in containment zones from 7th May. It came as a boon to addicts who could not fill their glasses during the over 40 days lock down. There were reports of illicit brewing and illegal sale of liquor allegedly by DMK cadres. The state government which had earlier allowed opening of commercial shops to facilitate Ramzan eve shopping, did not allow temples to perform daily poojas.
 
DMK, the main opposition which rushes to courts against the state government decision, this time kept quiet. Instead it announced a symbolic protest. On 7th DMK chief, MK Stalin wearing a black shirt and holding black flag hold protests at his resident for 15 minutes. It was to show its displeasure against the Central and state government on their failure in fighting Covid-19 situation. His wife, son and youth wing secretary Udhayanidhi Stalin besides thousands of cadres held similar symbolic protests. The irony is that most of the DMK cadres with black dress went straight to the TASMAC shops to buy their share of poison after the protest.
 
DMK's Double Standards
 
According to TASMAC website, out of the total 18 distilleries and breweries, a majority of them are owned by the AIADMK and DMK leaders. In 2010, the then DMK government permitted former union minister and now Lok Sabha MP, S Jagathratchagan’s family ,who owned Elite Distilleries to setup AM breweries. Owner of SNJ distilleries S Jayamurugan, who co-produced two movies (Penn singam and Uliyin Osai) for which DMK chief M Karunanidhi had written script and dialogue. He is now alleged benami of DMK MP Kanimozhi.
 
Golden Vats Distilleries owned by one S Vasudevan , a close associate of former Union Minister T R Baalu and is a member of Lok Sabha. Midas Golden Distilleries is reportedly owned by Karthikeyan Kaliaperumal, who is a relative of J Jayalalithaa’s confidante Sasikala, has reportedly benefited considerably after the AIADMK government ushered to power. The late N P V Ramaswamy Udayar was the first one to get license to manufacture when TN lifted liquor ban. He was very close to AIADMK founder MGR.
 
As per last available data, around Rs.30,000 per annum came from sale of Indian Made Foreign liquor (IFML). There are over 5,500 TASMAC outlets in the state. On 6th May the state government announced a maximum hike of Rs.20. 

DMK liquor Distilleries_1 
Liquor Distilleries owned by various DMK politicians
 
Politics of Liquor in TN
 
In the last Assembly poll (2016) Jayalalithaa while seeking second term, promised that prohibition would be implemented in a phased manner if elected to rule. Not to lag behind this, Karunanidhi said in party’s manifesto of total prohibition. The AIADMK government under Edapadi regime totally forgot Jayalalithaa’s promise. Karunanidhi, who became the Chief Minister in 1971, had lifted the ban on prohibition saying state was incurring loss of revenue as there was no dry law in neighbouring states. He made the decision despite stiff opposition from many quarters including C Rajagopalachary, popularly called Rajaji, who helped DMK to win polls. In 1937 Madras Presidency CM Rajaji enforced prohibition in Salem. After Bharat became independent, Congress party won the first general election in 1952. The prohibition act was extended to all over the state.
 
Karunanidhi who lifted prohibition for brief period, had brought back it in 1974. MGR, who succeeded Karunanidhi, set up Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation. Licenses to sell and run bars were given through auctions. Tamil Nadu Spirit Corporation manufactured liquor till it was closed in 1987. Earlier Toddy and arrack in sachets were sold. IFML was given only to permit holders. TN is known for a large number of illicit hooch tragedies and loss of human lives.
 
Political commentator Maridhas said the decision of TN government has kicked off a controversy at a difficult time. He said as per government website, TASMAC was the brain child of MGR but arrack shops were opened by Karunanidhi. Arrack was procured and distributed to retail outlets. Close on the heels of scores complaints of large scale irregularities, MGR took over the procurement in 1983. Citing, he said, In the web site, half of the producers were DMK leaders. Most of the media call them benamies of Karunanidhi, or his son Stalin. “So government’s decision is going to benefit them. They ( DMK) should not pretend that they are against opening of TASMAC shops. Earlier their produces were illegally sold now going to be sold in outlets legally. In both ways they are making money. Both are hand in glove and we are being fooled by their mutual accusation tacit.
 
Maridhas said “Even the people who consume may not think of it. Many have become sober. But the state government, the seller, has the urge to generate money and it’s under compulsion. In 2016-17, last available statement, out of 31,000 crore sale of liquor, nearly 15,524 crore income came to state. Out of the state’s revenue, nearly 71 per cent goes to its staff salary, pension, administrate overheads etc. Remaining 29 percent is available for carrying out welfare measures. Total borrowing is 4.56 lakh crore . A share of State GDP 17 per cent below is normal. But we have 22 percent and can’t borrow any more. The government to avoid bankruptcy, allowed the liquor shops. Successive State governments failed to create food processing infrastructure but they showed interest in liquor business.
 
Lawyer Tamil Mani challenged Stalin saying "whether the DMK would announce that his party-men who are addicted to liquor can’t stand for any election for any post, if it stands for total prohibition. He should openly tell that DMK party functionaries would close their liquor manufacturing units and ask the AIADMK and others to follow the same. But he won’t".
 
Meanwhile, after hearing a batch of petitions, the Madras High Court on 8th May, has ordered immediate closure of all shops till end of lockdown. However, it can free to sell through online and home delivery. The court rapped the officials for blatant violations of conditions laid down by it to resume sale from 7th May. Unconfirmed sources say, the distillers who wanted to sell the accumulated stocks, entered into a deal with the government despite knowing that court will interfere.