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Jarring Barring

Jarring Barring

Good intentions do not always make for sound judgement. This could not be truer in the Supreme Court verdict on having bars, pubs and liquor vends more than 500 metres away from national and state highways.

The logic behind the verdict seems to suggest that if liquor dispensing outlets are next to the roads, it would result in drunken driving. What data do we have to support that people drive into restaurants, pubs or vends sober, consume alcohol and drive out to cause accidents?

Sober & Callous

I have not seen any data to suggest this. The only study I came across recently says that drunken driving accounts for less than 2% of accidents in India. The rest are caused by sober people being unmindful of their own welfare and that of others. Callousness seems to be a much bigger villain than alcohol.

Nevertheless, I have no objection to reducing the percentage of accidents caused by drunken driving to nil. Just because accidents are caused mostly by sober people does not mean there should not be a crackdown on drunken driving.

Multiple Measures

Even while governments ensure people adhere to speed limits, do not jump traffic lights, wear durable helmets and seat belts and take measures such as removing potholes from roads and enforce 24-hour monitoring of road travellers by increasing number of police personnel and patrol vehicles on highways, it needs to crack down on drunken driving too.

However, I cannot imagine that anyone could presume that by moving liquor vends, pubs and restaurants serving alcohol from highways one can stop anyone from driving drunk. It is unfortunate if the honourable judges of the Supreme Court have been misled to believe this by some overzealous litigant.

Extra Mile

If someone is inclined to have a drink and determined to drive, what prevents one from travelling the extra mile for the drink? Anyone who has observed drunks knows the extent to which they go to procure a drink.

The Supreme Court verdict has hit legitimate hospitality business. What happens to those buildings even if the pubs have the wherewithal to procure a place and rebuild 500 metres away from the highway?

Police’s Job

Drunken driving has to be cracked down by better law enforcement. There has to be enough police patrols on state and national highways. This is essential not only to stop drunks but also prevent kidnapping, rape, murder, drug trafficking and even self-empowered Gau Rakshaks who murder people transporting cows to farms.

Police patrolling is not about creating traffic blocks either. Moving patrol cars have to keep a vigil on suspected activity. I’m sure effective patrolling will reduce the general crime rate. Breath analysers to check random drivers whose vehicle movements indicate a drunk may be at the wheel should be essential equipment in patrol cars. Drunk driving and accidents they cause too can be brought down drastically by solely adopting such measures.

Moral Police

I don’t think it was the court’s intention to be the moral guardian of the people. Everyone is within one’s right to consume alcohol while adhering to laws. The irony is that most state governments earn a substantial part of revenue to pay staff salary, including for moral science teachers, from licensing fee of liquor vends, excise duty and service tax from bars.

This is not to make a case that any arm of the government should promote alcoholism. But moral policing has no place in a democracy. The duty of the state is to ensure order and enable people to live within the confines of law without being a menace to anybody. Everything else one does is no business of any arm of the government. This is what democracy and freedom of choice are about.

Social Workers Galore

The ill-effects of alcohol are what one should learn as a child from parents, teachers and elders. Spiritual leaders too can continue to do the duty on those who were not inculcated the truth about the evils of drinking through therapy clinics and counselling centres.

But everyone has limits. It is not the job of the guru of a sect or a bishop to head a body that conducts agitation or social campaign against alcoholism. By all means support such measures, but leave the actual activism for social workers to pursue. Those concerned with spiritual matters have enough work in the vineyards to be worried about such temporal problems of the flock. At least fighting alcoholism is not a cause that is short of leadership.

Show Diligence

Unwarranted activism is not only jarring but gives a reason for politicians and social commentators to question the role of spiritual leaders and kick-up avoidable controversies, more so when they unwittingly demand increasing quota of mass-wine production while spearheading the fight against alcoholism. Experience suggests it is not possible to convince non-believers that mass wine and alcoholism are unrelated.

Even while the media has in all earnestness started highlighting the downside of the Supreme Court judgement, its total silence in criticising the executive for similar bans imposed on eating habits underlines its double standards. If consumption of beverages is a matter of individual freedom, the media should know so are food habits. How can any politician or minister decide who should eat what? While such debates were commonplace after Mohammed Iklaq was lynched to death over consumption of meat in 2015, it has almost died down today after BJP’s massive win in UP, while people are lynched by mobs in the guise of saving cows.

Citizen Kejriwal Must Pay

Does Aam Aadmi Party convenor Arvind Kejriwal think that the tax payer should take care of his grocery bill? S/he may be doing it by footing the salary bill of the Delhi Chief Minister already but he should know the difference between the hats he wears.

In his capacity as a public figure and leader of the AAP, Kejriwal made allegations of corruption against Delhi and District Cricket Association office-bearer Arun Jaitley. The criminal defamation suit Jaitley filed against Kejriwal had nothing to do with his discharge of duties as the Chief Minister of Delhi.

So in what capacity is he asking his government to foot the legal expenses bill running into several lakhs? Some have tried to say that Narendra Modi was defended in courts by the state of Gujarat. But what they fail to understand is that the cases were not against Modi the individual but he was accused of dereliction of duty as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Legal bills apart, the current status of an anti-corruption crusader is noteworthy for those looking for messiahs.

(abey.kay@gmail.com)

(Published on 10th April 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 15)#