Tipplers Deserve A Level Playing Field

Alcoholics deserve a level playing field. Non-drinkers should either pay a cess on the milk they consume, or it should be made mandatory for every teetotaller household to buy at least two units of booze every month.

The Holy Cow is now an accepted reality in India- it is the de facto national animal as we speak, and will no doubt also become so de jure shortly, perhaps even acquire constitutional status once the cattle auctions for the Rajya Sabha are over. State governments have now started providing specific budgetary provisions for its welfare- UP has provided Rs. 600 crore for construction and maintenance of cattle shelters (more than for school buildings) and  Himachal too has allocated a separate budget for it. Both states have imposed a cess on liquor to garner funds for this noble purpose, though most reports would appear to indicate that most of this lucre is going to the gau rakshaks rather than the gaus- the deaths of hundreds of cows in cattle shelters in UP over the last week would appear to bear this out. But this milking of the milch cow is par for the course in today’s politics and is not the subject of this piece; I am on a far more important point.

In my blog last week [No More Animal Spirits, Please !] I had referred to the cess imposed on all liquor sold in the state for the welfare of cows as the Animal Farm school of economics. A good friend of mine (whose name I cannot reveal since he is still yoked to the sarkari bullock- cart) has made a very pertinent observation on this: why is it that the burden of bovine welfare is thrust only upon the alcoholics? Should non-drinkers not share this onerous burden too?- after all, the cow is their “mata” too. My friend goes even further- he suggests that this alcohol cess discriminates against drinkers, violates Article 14 of the Constitution, and, if challenged, is liable to be struck down by any judge, sober or drunk. He would like some upright member of the Bar (the High Court bar, not the Gymkhana Club bar) to mount a constitutional challenge to this cess before other states also get into the spirit of this taxation.

Liquor taxed for protecting cows

Come to think of it, my friend is right. Any tax should be equitable and should not be discriminatory. The onus of looking after the national animal should be the responsibility of all citizens and not only of Jake the Peg. In fact, a greater responsibility devolves upon milk drinkers and consumers of Baba Ramdev’s ghee, for are they not the ultimate beneficiaries of this transmutation of alcohol into milk? I’m beginning to suspect that the gau rakshaks are not as stupid as they look, that their grasp of economics is perhaps just as good as their grasp of lathis, for this cess is a win-win for them: they have to pay nothing for the up-keep of the cows, they receive govt. funds for their gaushalas, and they get to drink the milk free! And they didn’t even have to go to Harvard to figure this out- all it needed was some hard work bashing up a few cattle traders. No wonder the Prime Minister prefers hard work over Harvard – as they say in Yogi’s UP these days: ” Jiski lathi uski BA!” As for me, I’d gladly give up my daily peg for such a deal.

No, sir, the alcoholics deserve a level playing field. Non-drinkers should either pay a cess on the milk they consume, or it should be made mandatory for every teetotaller household to buy at least two units of booze every month; they need not imbibe it, they can always sell it to a buddy (like me or my anonymous friend) or to parched army guys whose quota has been recently slashed (an unwise move, according to me, for it’s best to keep retired army chaps drunk all the time, otherwise they may sober up and decide that if they can hold on to Siachen they can do the same to Lutyen’s Delhi, that if the BJP can come to power on the army’s Balakot shoulders then the army can do so on its own !). Of course, the mandatory purchase of alcohol by every household may have an unforeseen result: people may give up the lactose and switch to the golden Hippocrene. But that would not be a bad thing at all: it would mean more shekels for the consolidated fund and we would go up a few notches in the Happiness Index too.

Patriotism would henceforth be defined, not by how many cattle smugglers you lynch but by how many pegs you tipple. Because it would all be- hic!- for the benefit of the cow. There’s a lesson here for Mr. Prohibition Babu, the Chief Minister of Bihar.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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