#Don’tPegOnPoison: A Discussion On The Perils of Illicit Alcohol 

The Quint and global brewer AB InBev organised #DontPegOnPoison to create awareness on the perils of illicit liquor.

3 min read

Illicit liquor, often contaminated with deadly methanol, are thought to be responsible for hundreds of deaths each year in India. Around 40 percent of alcohol consumed in the country is estimated to come from illicit sources.

Every time an incident related to the deaths caused by the drinking of spurious liquor takes place, state authorities respond by taking some routine steps like removing senior excise officials, like the recent expulsion of Ajay Sonkar from the Bhartiya Janata Party after his name cropped up in connection with the illicit liquor tragedy in Uttarakhand. Over the last many years, the deaths due to the consumption of poisonous liquor which are produced locally have become a major issue of concern for state governments across the country including Assam and Uttar Pradesh.

With an aim to create awareness on the perils of illicit liquor, The Quint and global brewer AB InBev came together to organise an event called #DontPegOnPoison on September 19. Through expert discussions and panels, ‘Don’t Peg on Poison’ aimed to drive awareness on the growing spate of illicit-alcohol related deaths and tragedies, through insights from stakeholders, policy makers, as well as the activists on ground.

The event kickstarted with an evocative sand art performance that showed how a father’s habit of drinking illicit liquor destroyed his daughter’s life.

Guest of honour and CEO of Niti Ayog, Mr Amitabh Kant spoke on how the illicit liquor industry impacts the socio-economic growth of India. He said, “This is a major issue the nation is facing and that’s why it is important to eradicate the trade of illicit liquor from the country completely.”

Next in session was a discussion on the effects of illicit alcohol on the social fabric and how it affects women and children. The panel was moderated by Ms Ritu Kapur, CEO & Founder, The Quint, and the participants were Dr AS Soin, Liver Transplant Surgeon, Ms Swati Maliwal, Chairperson, Delhi Commision for Women, Mr Probin Das, Activist, Assam, and Ms Kavita, Editor, Khabar Lahariya.

While Dr Soin threw light on the effects of illicit liquor on the body, the others shared some startling, on-ground accounts of what’s really happening behind the tally of death that we read about in news. The panellists discussed about how women have pioneered the anti-hooch movement in India and are constantly battling the bootleggers, the mafia and in some cases the law, to fend for their families.

The session was followed by Mr Jeffrey Hardy, Director General, Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade releasing the first and only India-specific report on the spurious sale and consumption of illicit alcohol in India. He also highlighted several international examples and their relevance in Indian context. He highlighted the various ways that illicit alcohol gets distributed in India: in the form of refilled branded bottles or using counterfire packaging or forged tax stamps and selling them along with a mix of legal and illicit alcohol beverages. He spoke about how prohibition, weak regulation and enforcement, and affordability all contribute to the menace that distribution of illicit alcohol is in the country. He recommended multiple ways to control the problem of illicit alcohol in India like raising consumer awareness, improving the accessibility of legal products and promoting the creation of local private-public partnerships.

In a Q&A session, Shri Ram Vilas Paswan, Honourable Cabinet Minister, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution & Mr Sanjay Pugalia, Editorial Director, TheQuint discussed

India's liquor trade, impact of prohibition, and lessons to be learned from states in India with examples. Shri Paswan said, “There is a dire need of making the population aware of the ill-effects of this social evil.”

Bans and prohibitions on alcohol are largely understood to drive consequent markets for illicit alternatives and thereby exposing consumers to unregulated, potentially lethal products. The event ended with the discussion between Mr Pawan Varma, Former Indian Ambassador, Advisor to Chief Minister of Bihar and National Spokesperson of Janta Dal (United) and Mr John Johnson, Vice President Legal, Compliance and Corporate Affairs at AB InBev, who exchanged views on the merits of prohibition as a solution.

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