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UP hills echo anti-liquor call: Slain scribe remembered in Uttarakhand

Hindustan Times, April 19, 1997

GOPESHWAR (Chamoli), April 18 (From Harish Chandola) The death anniversary of a murdered journalist, Umesh Doval, has provided the occasion to Uttarakhand activists to commemorate it with meetings to express their thoughts on the kind of a hill state they want to have and the correct path to its attainment.

Doval was murdered by the liquor mafia in the hills in a hotel in Pauri, the Garhwal division headquarters, on March 25,1988. His ninth death anniversary is being observed at various hill centres, by holding seminars, symposia and exhibition of poetryposters, paintings and inkdrawings on Doval’s poems by a well-known artist, B. Mohan Negi.

Tributes are being paid to him by raising relevant questions concerning the future of politics, society, and, in fact all aspects of hill life. The two main meetings held so far were in Kotdwar, on March 25 and 26, and in Gopeshwar for three days in the first week of this month. The next will be held in Almora.

The most important question that has come up is the invisible influence of liquor mafia in the hills, where drinking has become the bane of life. The U. P. Government has encouraged liquor shops to open, as shown by last month’s auction of licences for vends, which netted about Rs 200 crore for the administration.

The easy availability of both licenced and illicit liquor all over the hills has led to more and more people taking to it, including the youth.

The strange thing is that the head of district administration, the ziladhikari, or district magistrate, is both the prohibition officer and also the one who auctions licences for opening liquor shops!

No wonder the fight against liquor had become the cry of the Uttarakhand movement, after women joined it in very large numbers. It was they who had to bear the bnunt of the profligacy of a husband or a son who not only spent all his earnings but also borrowed for his addiction, leading to constant conflicts and often ruin of the family.

Some ten million bottles of Indian made foreign liquor (rum mostly, besides whisky and gin), and almost ten times that number of country liquor that comes in plastic pouches, are consumed in the hills every month. The ex-army and para-military personnel living in the hills number about 500,000, and on an average each is entitled to draw four bottles of Indian made foreign liquor, which alone comes to two million bottles a month, besides the consumption by civilians, and country-liquor by villagers and others.

No sooner the Uttarakhand movement slackened, auctions were held for liquor shops all over the hills. But that has not deterred people in some areas from raising their voice against awarding of fresh licences, for liquor shops. In Pithoragarh district alone the heads of 27 panchayats have written to UP Chief Minister Mayawati to close the new liquor shops and to meet the consequent Government revenue loss of Rs eight crore by cutting the development grants to the district by that amount.

Women from those panchayats and from some others in Almora have gone on relay hunger-strike to press this demand.

Illicit liquor trade has blossomed following the auction of vends. Their owners are reported to be recruiting young men to take liquor in plastic pouches for sale in their villages on commission.