Sangrur (Punjab) - It was a Taare Zameen Par moment for Changal, a village five kilometres from Sangrur city. One of the 50-odd villages which had shot to fame following their panchayat’s resolution to close down liquor vend as part of their fight against growing menace of alcoholism, on Friday got a thumbs up from Bollywood star Aamir Khan, whose crew came down to hold a special video conferencing of the actor with the villagers.
It was in 2009 that Changal decided to say no to liquor during the panchayat elections. In October last year, the crew of Aamir Khan Productions had come down to the villages of Sangrur to shoot a documentary on their fight against alcoholism. Today, the village had a date with the star himself. Village sarpanch Paramjit Singh says he told Aamir that women had assured him their votes during the panchayat elections after he promised to rid the village of the liquor vend.
“On becoming a sarpanch, our panchayat passed a resolution to shut it down. The resolution was forwarded to the department of excise, which was forced to shunt it out in 2009. Again last year, we passed the same resolution and there has been no liquor vend in the village for two years now,” he says.
Alcoholism is one of the many reasons for rising cases of debt in Sangrur villages, which also shares the dubious distinction of being the farmer suicide belt of the state, says NGO, People for Transparency.
“We have been working in Sangrur since 2007. We helped panchayats understand that their decision was binding on the government. Initially, just four villages did so. In two years, the number has gone up to over 50 in Sangrur district alone and over 70 in Punjab,” says Kamal Anand of the NGO.
He points out how government excise policy is the biggest encouragement to rising problem of alcoholism. “The excise quota fixed by the department for this year is 30 crore bottles. Assuming that only those above the age of 18 who are eligible to vote also have a right to drink, the per capita allocation is two bottles a month going by the voter count of 1.7 crore for Punjab. This is both absurd and dangerous,” Anand says.
The fight of the panchayats was as much against the resistance of tipplers as it was with the government as each village vend fetches the excise department revenue between Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1.5 core. “No wonder the department had turned down the requests of many panchayats arbitrarily. It took us a fight through courts and right to information (RTI) Act to get the government to accept the verdict of the panchayats,” he adds.
And poll slogans of political parties are no more what Changal is now talking about. It is now just the slogan given by the star, Punjabio jagte raho.