Uttarakhand drinking is no longer a personal issue but has become a social, economic and political evil. Ever since independence, sporadic struggles against drunkenness have broken out from time to time. From 1965 to 1971 a strong movement spread so the government had to declare prohibition in certain areas. At present, there is complete prohibition in Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Tehri, partial prohibition, under which liquor is available with a permit, in Pauri and Pithoragarh, but liquor is freely available in Nainital, Almora and Dehradun.
None of the prohibition laws have been effective however, because certain medicines like Mritsanjivni Sura, Ashoka liquid and biotonic are being drunk as intoxicants. According to law, these medicines should not have more than 20 percent alcohol content but a People’s Union for Democratic Rights survey found 75 percent alcohol content in Ashoka liquid and 80 percent in the Sura. These medicines are freely available and are cheaper than liquor, so many men prefer to drink them even though they are more harmful than liquor. Thus there is no area in Uttarakhand where liquor or an alternative intoxicant is not available.
Liquor is available even in those farflung areas where there is no school, no ration shop, no employment, no hospital. If there is a school there is no teacher and no building, if there is a hospital there is no doctor or no medicines. In these areas some people literally think that sansad (parliament) refers to some kind of disease. Funds allocated for development projects find their way into the pockets of middlemen. Many villages have taps and electricity lines but no water or electricity ever flows through them though the tax has to be paid. These villages face a scarcity of firewood and every monsoon, epidemics rage and claim many lives.
Yet, amid such chaos, there is a well organised network for the distribution of liquor. Liquor is transported in buses, trucks and taxis. A few families have a monopoly in the liquor trade and they take contracts throughout Uttar Pradesh. With the help of local ruffians, they manage to circumvent prohibition laws, and sell country liquor in bottles labelled factory made. The trade is so remunerative that some earn a living merely by transporting dozen bottles to villages near a distillery each day.
Recently in February 12 at east 70 people have lost their lives in the hooch tragedy in the two adjoining districts in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, even as two people have been arrested in this connection. In Uttarakhand, the death toll rose to 36 on Sunday, with 11 more people succumbing after consuming the spurious liquor in a village in Haridwar district.
36 people have died in Saharanpur district which adjoins Uttarakhand, according to an Uttar Pradesh government statement released Saturday evening in Lucknow. The arrested father-son duo, Fakira and Sonu, told police that they had procured the spurious liquor from Uttar Pradesh and sold it in Balupur and its neighbouring villages in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar district.