TN earns Rs 44,121 cr from TASMAC, spends only Rs 5 cr on rehab of bootleggers

TNM received RTI responses regarding prohibition offenders’ rehabilitation from 20 of the state’s 38 districts. While some said they rehabilitated as many as 30 offenders in a year, some reported no funds allocated in the past three years.
Tamil Nadu Chief minister MK Stalin
Tamil Nadu Chief minister MK Stalin
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The recent hooch tragedy in Kallakurichi that took over 60 lives demands a look into Tamil Nadu’s long struggle with curbing the distillation and sale of illicit liquor in the state. However, data published by the government and accessed by TNM through Right to Information (RTI) responses point to the lack of political will in implementing an effective rehabilitation policy for prohibition offenders. In 2022-23, the government spent only 0.01% of the Rs 44,121 crore it made through sale of liquor through TASMAC (Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation) outlets. 

The state government’s Prohibition and Excise Policy has been drafted with the understanding that stopping the production and sale of illicit liquor is crucial to cutting down consumption. The policy allows the rehabilitation of former bootleggers and sellers of illicit liquor by helping them set up alternative employment means – an initiative that has the potential to curb illicit brewing at the source. 

However, the tragedy in Kallakurichi, which is unfortunately not an isolated incident, is testimony to the fact that the policy is far from effective. In 2023, 22 people lost their lives in the two neighbouring districts of Villupuram and Chengalpattu after consuming illicit liquor. Earlier, in 2022 and in 2021, the state reported 20 and six deaths respectively, as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

Activists say that the economic rehabilitation provisions are hindered by insufficient funding. TNM sent queries under the RTI Act to the 38 district administrations in the state regarding the implementation of the policy. Of the 20 districts that responded, some said they rehabilitated as many as 30 offenders in a year, some reported no funds allocated in the past three years. 

The rehabilitation policy

In 2003, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government under late chief minister J Jayalalithaa sanctioned financial assistance of Rs 2.2 crore as loan to rehabilitate persons who were convicted under the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act. In 2011, the rehabilitation fund was increased to Rs 5 crore. Moreover, the nature of the financial assistance was changed from loan to grant. 

An official from the Excise Department told TNM, “As per the policy, convicts who complete their jail term and return to their regular lives are considered for rehabilitation. However, they must refrain from prohibited activities for atleast a year after completing jail term and must also be from economically weaker sections to be qualified for the grant amount.” 

Up until 2023-24, each qualifying beneficiary was eligible to receive assistance upto Rs 30,000 under this policy. From 2024-25 onwards, the assistance may extend upto Rs 50,000.

Every year, beneficiaries are chosen in each district based on the recommendations of the police and the Assistant Commissioner of Excise. A committee headed by the District Collector and consisting of the Superintendent of Police, Assistant Commissioner of Excise, and Senior Regional Manager of Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) will approve the beneficiaries and help in facilitating the assistance. 

“The government doesn’t usually give the amount as cash directly to the beneficiary. The money will be invested in, say buying cattle, sheeps, setting up shops etc. The police and the AC of Excise will also follow up to ensure that the beneficiaries do not resume prohibited activities,” the Excise official added.

The state government, in its Prohibition and Excise policy note for 2023-24, said that on 2022-23, a total of 483 people benefited from the first instalment of Rs.1.44 crore. The RTI responses sought by TNM in November 2023 give a rough break up of where this money was spent. 

Of the 38 districts, 20 responded between December 2023 and January 2024. While some presented concrete numbers, some answered questions selectively and failed to present numbers. Among the districts that answered all the questions were Salem, which rehabilitated 30 persons, Ranipet which rehabilitated 31 persons, Tiruvannamalai 16, Tirupattur nine, and Namakkal and Pudukottai, which rehabilitated two persons each. 

Meanwhile, Kancheepuram responded saying that no money was spent on rehabilitation and Erode responded saying that no funds have been allocated for rehabilitating prohibition offenders since 2021.

While the complete numbers are yet to be furnished by the state, an average of 1,500 prohibition offenders have benefited from this policy each year, as per the state’s records. After the financial assistance was increased to Rs 5 crore and was allotted as a grant in 2011, the highest number of beneficiaries (1,900) were rehabilitated in 2012-13.

As per government data, 20,306 persons have been rehabilitated under this policy since 2007. Despite this, more cases of bootlegging are registered every year.

‘An eye-washing strategy’

An activist who works with de-addiction and rehabilitation of illicit liquor consumers said, “These offenders make a lot of money from distilling and selling illicit liquor. It is not possible for them to easily change professions because the income wouldn’t come near the profit margin they make from selling illicit alcohol. Even if beneficiaries avail the grant amount, they might, on the side, be involved in these activities once again.” 

Jayaram Venkatesan, convenor of the Chennai based anti-graft NGO Arappor Iyakkam, said that the amount spent by the government on rehabilitation of prohibition offenders is negligible when compared to the revenue it generates through TASMAC sales. As he pointed out, the state has been making several thousand crores every year through the sales of legal alcohol in TASMAC outlets. 

In 2022-23, the government made Rs 44,121 crore from TASMAC. However, the amount spent in rehabilitating prohibition offenders was only Rs 5 crore. “That is only 0.01% of the revenue that the government has made from liquor sales. The government should at least spend 1% of its TASMAC revenue, which itself will amount to Rs 441 crore. This entire system of rehabilitation is only an eye-washing strategy,” Jayaram said.

When the government introduced Rs 5 crore as a grant in 2011-12, the grant amount was only 0.027% of that year’s TASMAC revenue – Rs 18,081 crores. Since then, although the TASMAC revenue has grown in thousands, the grant amount has remained constant.

According to Jayaram, “By not improving the expenditure to rehabilitate offenders and help them get employed in alternative fields, it becomes apparent that there is neither political nor bureaucratic will to exercise a good policy.”

With inputs from Shabbir Ahmed.

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