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11 May, 2008

Indian Leaders Concerned About People Getting Drunk Off Power And Just Getting Drunk

Originally Published: 11 May 2008

Although India is in the news these days mainly for its massive economic growth and market potential, two side-effects are arousing a high degree of nationwide concern: The rise in both corruption and alcohol abuse.

Last month, Indian Vice President M. Hamid Ansari delivered a speech in which he lambasted corruption as being “much more than an irritant or growth retardant; it has emerged as a significant national security threat.”

And the country’s Alcohol Policy Alliance released an “Alcohol Atlas of India,” to create public awareness about the adverse social, economic and medical effects of alcohol abuse as it spreads into the rural areas and becomes increasingly patronised by women and young people.

Dr Ansari’s lecture on corruption was entitled, “The Enemy Within – Corruption, Development and Governance.” He said that although he himself came from a foreign policy background in which actual or potential threats to Indian interests were seen as emanating from abroad, domestic “corruption had become pervasive, cancerous and multi-dimensional.”

“In its moral dimension, it impacts the foundations of the social and political fabric of society and increases injustice; in its legal implications, it results in disregard for the rule of law; in its developmental aspect, it tends to distort the decision-making processes on investment projects and other commercial transactions and is wasteful of resources.”

He said the “creeping assault of corruption on the national fabric has shaken the legitimacy of the Indian state. It has eroded state sovereignty and capacity to exercise sovereign functions including ensuring law and order and safeguarding national security for the citizens.”

The Vice President said corrupt practices ranged from major issues and big projects down to the creation of artificial scarcities of essential commodities or medicines by hoarding or diversion to the open market, thus triggering inflation and causing acute hardship to the common man.

“In a democracy, political power resides with the people,” Dr Ansari said. “By definition, therefore, political corruption becomes the most lethal and damaging form of corruption since its processes undermine the institutions of democracy themselves and thereby affect adversely correctives at other levels of society.

He quoted India writer Ramachandra Guha as noting in his tome on the history of contemporary India, that “because being in power is so profitable, there is now increasing trade in politicians, and because politics is such good business, it has also become a dirty business.”

Dr Ansari added, “We have a situation in which the politics of corruption and the corruption of politics fuel each other. Both impact adversely on governance and therefore on development. A UNDP report estimated that if corruption levels are reduced to those of Scandinavian countries, investment in India would increase by 10 percent and the GDP growth by 1.5 percent.”

He said corruption had become “a problem of monstrous dimensions,” and had been noted in the Approach Paper to the current 11th Five Year Plan thus: “Corruption is now seen to be endemic in all spheres and this problem needs to be addressed urgently.”

Although the situation is perilous, Dr Ansari described it as being retrievable. “A successful campaign against corruption in public life needs to have moral, legal, political, administrative and economic dimensions.

“The impediment at the moment is that corruption is accepted in the social psyche and behaviour as an unavoidable fact of life. Even the tinge of disapproval is missing. We need to bring back the sense of right and wrong, and place corruption squarely in the latter category.”

“In the final analysis, national institutions for governance and for fighting crimes against it sustain their legitimacy by responding meaningfully to the public’s desire for clear, effective, and transparent governance.

“To do so, and in addition to their professional skills, they have to adhere to the Gandhian model of a moral character and hold aloft the banner of a principled approach.

“Failure to do so in adequate measure would corrode public confidence, breed cynicism and would be altogether harmful to the Republic and its democratic principles,” Dr Ansari said.

Just as significant a threat to Indian society is the scourge of alcohol, as well documented in the “Alcohol Atlas.”

Targetted at policy makers, professionals, organisations and media, the Atlas focuses on issues related to production, distribution, availability and sale of alcohol in India, along with its consumption patterns, health consequences, socio-economic impact and response towards control and prevention of harm.

In his speech at the launch, Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss said that alcohol abuse is a major cause of concern as consumption expands from the urban to the rural areas and spreads among women and the young.

He cited one study as showing that the average age of initiation has reduced from 28 years during the 1980s to 20 years in the recent times. The most recent data from the National Family Health Survey collected in 2005-06, showed that about 32% were current users of alcohol and between 4 and 13% were daily users.

Said Dr Ramadoss, “India traditionally has a dry or abstaining culture yet now it has one of the largest alcoholic beverage industries in the world. We are the dominant producer of alcohol in the South East Asia region (65%) and contribute to about 7% of the total alcohol beverage imports into the region.

“The increasing production, distribution, promotion and easy availability of alcohol coupled with the changing values of society and Illiteracy have resulted in a big challenge in the absence of advocacy, research & documentation and a National Policy on Alcohol.”

Stressing that the problem will cause social tensions and distortions for years to come, he urged the media to help generate awareness about its negative social, economic and medical effects among the masses and “to take the message down to the schools and colleges and to the rural areas.”

Said Dr Ramadoss: “Today when young persons see the advertisements of the different brands in surrogate ads and the attendant glamorous lifestyles, they are misled and they get an impression that the ultimate symbol of having arrived is to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes.

“We need to make concerted efforts to face this problem head-on and to find appropriate solutions.”