news Saturday, May 02, 2015 - 05:30
Two weeks ago, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy went up on stage at the launch event of "Subhodam" campaign and announced, “Kerala can become a model state for the rest of the states in the country.” The campaign, initiated to tackle alcohol and drug abuse, has the blessings of the Art of Living Foundation and support from UNICEF. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was also present at the event. “In my last visit I was shocked learning about the statistics about the use of alcohol in the State,” said the spiritual leader.  In the past two years, Kerala has been subject to several anti-alcohol-abuse schemes, controversial policies including phased prohibition and high-voltage political battles mainly lead by Congress chief VM Sudheeran. It is estimated that the state consumed 6.46 litre of liquor per person in 2013-14, although NSSO statistics show the situation could be worse in some other states. But there are other statistics which are indeed more surprising. What has the government been up to? Before announcing the government's policy of phased, complete prohibition a few months ago, Chandy had promised that they will invest heavily in de-addiction programmes and campaigns, and curb the menace that was rotting livers and breaking families. A slew of projects have been announced in the last few years. Currently, four major anti-alcohol and drug initiatives run parallel, each one with the same purpose. In 2011, the state government launched the "Campaign Against Alcoholism". Rallies were organised, documentaries screened and exhibitions held to campaign against alcohol abuse. Advertisements were beamed on TV channels and radio stations. CCTV cameras were installed at state transport corporation’s bus terminals in all the fourteen districts. Since 2011, International Day against Drug Abuse on June 26 has been observed by conducting awareness programmes in various educational institutions and residents’ associations. In collaboration with the department of education, a handout named "Athijeevanam" was distributed among teachers to spread awareness among school students. Funds were also allotted to Bodhi de-addiction center. Amount spent on all of this between 2011 and 2014: Rs. 2.83 crore. In 2014, the Kerala government, along with Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC) launched a social media campaign called "Addicted to Life". The campaign was very popular. Chief Minister Chandy formally inaugurated the campaign by liking the Facebook page. Actor Mammootty, the ambassador of the campaign, inspired other actors to follow suit. As the name suggests, the campaign targeted at youngsters, encouraged them to be addicted to life, and not alcohol. The page has more than 3 lakh likes. Amount spent: Rs. 15 lakh. Apart from rehabilitation of workers whose lives could be affected by the shutting down of bars, government also wanted to protect those who are addicted to alcohol. Project Punarjani 2030 was started. Rs 10,000 was sanctioned to 86 bar workers in the state, and the government claims to have allocated of Rs.2 crore since 2011 for de-addiction programmes. So amount spent on these schemes: Rs 2.08 crore. The Subodham project was launched on 19 April 2015 to help people in the state to overcome addiction to liquor in the next ten years. Subodham is regarded as the first step towards Punarjani 2030, for which the state source funds from alcohol cess. The government claims that 5% of cess on alcohol will be used for the project, though there seems to be no clarity on how much this will amount to. Repeated queries with the Excise department hit a wall. So, in all, how much has the government spent so far? A little more than Rs. 5 crore. And how much has the state of Kerala earned in revenues through the sale of liquor from its 384 liquor shops and 700 bars in just one year, 2013-14? Rs 9353 crore. At the official launch of Subodham, CM Chandy said that his government is even willing to let go of the entire revenue from the sale of alcohol. (Although that could be a problem for a state which is in deep trouble financially) But if the government is serious about getting its citizens to drink less, to be addicted to life and not alcohol, and to make Kerala the "model state", will paltry fund allocations be enough? A close look at the various activities to fight alcoholism reveals that the same activities like advertisements and seminars have been conducted year after year, under different scheme names. But without functional de-addiction centres in every corner of the state, providing alternative employment to the tens of thousands who are set to lose their jobs due the sector’s closure and regular campaigns targeted at young and old – all of which costs money – the government’s goal of total prohibition in the state will remain a pipe dream.          Read- Ranjini Haridas interview: Not suited for social media activism, will not stand abuse  
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