Tuesday, July 23, 2019
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In India, the ravages of illegal alcohol

At least 116 people have died drinking adulterated alcohol since Saturday 9 February. The consumption of spirits explodes in the land of Gandhi.

In India, adulterated alcohol has killed again. At least 116 people, according to a provisional assessment, have died since Saturday, February 9, using a torn-gut in several rural towns located 150 km north of New Delhi. The deadly beverage would come from a clandestine distillery, a common practice in a country where 40% of the alcohol absorbed is illegally produced. In response, the authorities say they have conducted 3,000 arrests in the spirits mafia environment.

Hundreds of poor Indians die every year after consuming this type of cheap adulterated drink. Smugglers who buy the silence of police and elected officials often add methanol – a highly toxic alcohol sometimes used as antifreeze – in their preparation to make it tough. Regular consumers of the working class are turning to these artisanal beverages at prices much lower than the bottles sold in an official shop.

Consumption is growing steadily

India, which for a long time conveyed the image of a country safe from alcohol, is experiencing a strong and regular growth of its consumption. The Indians absorbed 2.4 liters of pure alcohol per year in 2005, 4.3 liters in 2010 and 5.7 in 2016, according to the latest report of the World Health Organization (WHO). It is the highest figure in South Asia, although it remains about twice as low as France, for example.

In India, the ubiquitous ban on the sale of alcohol

More than the majority of Indians say indeed never drink a drop, against 10% in France. The Indian consumer is very often a man, who appreciates more than 90% spirits (arrack from smuggling, palm wine, whiskey, brandy). Young and middle-class cities are more likely to turn to local or imported official brands. Gandhi's country has become for example the third largest market after the United States and China of the world giant Pernod Ricard, which posted a growth of 34% in 2018.

Problematic consumption

If it occurs less frequently than in Europe, the Indian consumer tends to force the dose when he drinks. The rate of alcoholics in the male population (9%) is slightly lower than that of France (11.1) according to WHO estimates. Compared to 1.3 billion inhabitants, this percentage represents a worrying number of problems for society: road accidents, domestic violence, cirrhosis, diabetes and cancer.

Olivier Tallès

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