(Dr EAS Sarma)
I refer to MHA communication No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A) dated 1-5-2020 issued under the Disaster Management Act on lockdown relaxations in the context of COVID19.
In particular, Items 7 & 8 under “Public Places” in Annexure I of the above communication, imply permission for the sale of liquor subject to the buyers maintaining the minimum prescribed physical distance from one another.
The immediate outcome of the above relaxation, as soon as the Lockdown 3 started, had been distressing, to say the least! In almost every city and town, on the 4th of May, there were long unseemly queues of liquor buyers, not necessarily in compliance with the distancing norm, waiting for hours to purchase enough liquor to last consumption for several days. The MHA guidelines have resulted in an unusual surge in liquor consumption throughout the country,
I wish MHA had relied upon the advice of the Union Ministry of Health, ICMR, and an international body like WHO before indirectly encouraging liquor sales.
I quote draw your (union home secretary) attention to the WHO warning against making liquor available during lockdown: “Alcohol consumption is associated with a range of communicable and noncommunicable diseases and mental health disorders, which can make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19. In particular, alcohol compromises the body’s immune system and increases the risk of adverse health outcomes. Therefore, people should minimize their alcohol consumption at any time, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic”
One wonders as to why the liquor business should occupy such an important place in the country’s policy on lockdown relaxations. The liquor industry is not an employment-intensive one. No doubt, it generates revenues for the States but revenues from activities having adverse health impacts cannot be a good enough reason for encouraging liquor sales. I would not be surprised if the biggest beneficiary of allowing liquor selling is the liquor making industry itself.
I hope your Ministry has witnessed on the TV screens the ugly ruckus that is taking place around the liquor shops in different parts of the country. I hope that your Ministry will realize the indirect harm that is being caused to the immunity of all those who are being encouraged to consume liquor!
(Contents of the letter Dr EAS Sarma wrote to A K Bhalla, Union Home Secretary today, in the wake of the opening of liquor outlets in Andhra Pradesh)
(Dr EAS Sarma, former secretary to GOI, Visakhapatnam)