November 30, 2014

TAMILNADU Liquor Shops and Ration Shops: How the Govt Responds to Agitations on Both?

S P Rajendran

RECENTLY, the state of Tamil Nadu witnessed two different and important struggles. When we compare the approach of the government and the police officials towards both these struggles, the double stand of the AIADMK government gets exposed. Of the two struggles, the first one was, AIDWA's massive protest programme against the government run TASMAC liquor shops; the second one was, DYFI's protest call demanding more ration shops. AIDWA organised a militant protest in recent times, on October 14 and the struggle called upon to "Put lock to the liquor shop" located in prominent locations where people gather in large number and near the worship places, viz., bus stand, temples, schools, etc. Across the state, AIDWA listed around 71 such liquor shops. The call for this programme was given in the recently held Tamil Nadu state conference of AIDWA at Salem. The background of the call to put a lock to the liquor shop form of protest is very important. The government of Tamil Nadu runs the business of liquor through its trading corporation, i.e., TASMAC. Now, the TASMAC shops turned into a big threat for the society, particularly the uninterrupted supply of liquor and targeted business of the TASMAC is destructing more and more men and their poor families. The first and worst victims of this targeted liquor business are women and the children. Day by day, the crimes and the attack on the women and children are increasing. There is an urgent need to control and stop the destruction of the social fabric of Tamil Nadu. So, the conference of the AIDWA gave a clarion call to "Put a lock to the liquor shop" protest. In Nagapattinam district, at Sattiyakudi, a liquor shop was situated in the main bazaar. U Vasuki, vice president of AIDWA led the protest. At eight centres, the cadres of AIDWA scuffled with the police and succeeded in putting the lock to the shops. In other places, officials agreed to change the location of the shops. On November 12, DYFI organised a protest programme by the youth in the state in more than hundred centres, demanding more number of ration shops, ration cards for the new applicants. R Badri, the secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Nilgiris district committee compares these two struggles in his district and highlights the double stand and the indifferent attitude of the government authorities. When these two agitations took place at eight centres in the nilgiris district, 73 were arrested in the struggle against TASMAC liquor shop in the famous hill station, Ooty; and 101 were arrested in the protest for ration shops. In the case of TASMAC struggle, as there were two shops – one in the centre point of the town and the other one in the outskirts of the city, the demand was to merge these two shops and close the one in the centre point of the town. But the officials refused to merge these two liquor shops and they were very categorically telling that both the shops would function to render utmost service to their customers (!). In the case of Ration Shop struggle, when a ration shop is catering to the needs of more than 1000 family cards, they were demanding bifurcation of such shops. The agitators were agreeable if the second one is operated even for half a day. But on this demand, the officials have very lethargically said they would look into it. The firmness with which they replied in the liquor shop struggle was totally missing in the ration shop struggle. In the TASMAC shop struggle, hundreds of police personnel were deployed. The security provided to the shop on that particular day was at par to the security that is being provided to Lord Venkateswara at Tirupati. Agitators were not allowed even to go near the shop. When they demanded for a dialogue on the issue, the police officials said, “We don’t have any authority to discuss the issue. If at all any discussion is to be held, then the district head of TASMAC is to be approached. Our responsibility is only to ensure that the liquor shop is not closed.” What a duty consciousness of the police officials. But in the case of ration shop struggle, while the discussion with officials was demanded, the very same police department was telling that the officials cannot immediately come here. They said, “If at all you want to tell anything, tell it to us.” In order to ensure that the TAMAC shop is not closed, the district officials could rush to the spot and hold a dialogue with the agitators. But, in the case of ration shop issue, these officials could not come to the spot and at least lend their ears to hear what the people say. What an irony? When the demand for shifting of certain TASMAC shops was pressed, the officials were telling, “suggest the alternate place. Whatever may be the rent, it is not an issue. We can shift the shop there.” But when the demand for opening a new ration shop was put forth, you know what the reply given by the district supply officer was? “If you know anyone who would voluntarily let out space for the shop without charging any rent, please tell us. We shall open a shop there” – was the reply given by the officer. They conveniently take up such a position, because the government has not framed any rules for letting out space for a ration shop. In the TASMAC shop, they are very concerned that not a single complaint should arise about non-availability of any brand of liquor. So, they ensure availability of all brands at any time. The stock is always maintained and sometimes, a godown is also hired by paying higher rent. But in the case of a ration shop, only 45% to 50% of the required quantity is being provided by the government. When the district supply officer was posed with the question, then how you will manage the cardholders? Without any hesitation, he replies, “we will explain to the people about the situation and convince them that the stock would the distributed amongst half of the cardholders this month and for the rest, the stock would be supplied in the next month”. Is it not astonishing?