There are nearly 750 TASMAC outlets in Chennai district. As the sale of liquor is entirely controlled by the state, these outlets are the only vendors of alcohol for everyone across the city.
A sizable portion of revenue of the state government comes from the sales made by these outlets. Even during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the limited number of shops that were opened raked in revenues in crores each day.
Despite protests in various parts of the city and across the state, the state government has not kept its promise of closing down many TASMAC outlets. With cases of alcoholism and related issues creating grave issues in many households, protestors blamed the outlets for causing a crisis in the state.
However, the government has barely undertaken any action against what is perceived to be a cash cow, with reports stating that the number of outlets in the state has bounced back to pre-2016 levels. 2016 is when the state had shut some shops as part of an election promise and an order by the Supreme Court on closure of liquor shops along the highway.
Another aspect of the menace posed by ubiquitous liquor shops across the state is their presence in residential areas. Many a quiet neighbourhood has seen its peace and tranquility shattered by the opening of these shops which invites many customers at late hours.
Nuisance in the neighbourhood
The street I reside in, Venkatraman Canal Street, off Perambur High Road has three TASMAC outlets within a distance of a hundred meters. The shops see a regular influx of customers at all hours. The opening of these shops has disturbed the peace of residents, made the neighbourhood unsafe and has set a bad example for the youngsters and children in the area.
A short but non-exhaustive list of issues we have faced ever since the liquor shops were opened in our area eight years ago:
- Haphazard parking on both sides at the entrance to Venkatraman Canal Street, a narrow lane opposite to the Perambur Railway Station
- Drunken brawls by the shop’s patrons that often spill over into the streets
- Drinking & smoking in public spaces and not the designated bars attached to the shops
- Extreme noise pollution, especially late at night, as loud music is played by the patrons who stay within the premises
- Increased theft of two-wheelers, petrol from vehicles parked near homes, spare parts of vehicles etc
- Increased instances of petty crimes and theft such as chain-snatching
One of the bars is located right behind my house and a part of it was operating open-air. I had to make modifications to my bedroom window and have it closed, to get some respite from the noise. It was only after a series of complaints and escalation that I managed to get them to increase the height of the scaffolding between our properties.
History of complaints
When the shops opened in my usually quiet neighbourhood, much to everyone’s discomfort, many issues were caused by their presence. I decided to highlight them through complaints to the police and to the Chief Minister’s cell.
I highlighted specific instances and examples of the menace caused by these outlets. A chain snatching incident in the area was directly linked to some of the patrons of the TASMAC outlet and an FIR was filed regarding the same.
To add to our woes, two-wheelers and other vehicles are parked on either side of the lane causing obstruction to free flow of traffic during peak hours, especially during weekends. In the event of any emergency it would be very difficult for an ambulance or a fire tender to enter or pass through our street easily.
Despite raising these issues and meeting with police officers, little has changed since I initiated the complaints in 2017. Soon after an issue was raised, patrolling in the neighbourhood was intensified. However, with the passage of time there has been a decline in visible patrolling especially in the evenings when the area is prone to unpleasant incidents. More presence of police in the area could serve as a deterrent to the problems faced by the residents.
During the spate of complaints filed by me due to the lack of action or follow-up, my concerns were even dismissed at various points with contradictory responses from officials. At various points, I was referred to as a “petition-monger” and my concerns belittled as “silly complaints”.
This experience left me wondering if it was a crime to file a petition in public interest and expect some level of integrity, transparency and honesty from those who are responsible for addressing the grievances of the public.
COVID, a temporary relief
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic we were living peacefully for about four months of the lockdown when the liquor shops were ordered shut. This peace was short-lived with the government deciding to open the liquor shops in Chennai in August.
During the initial months of reopening, even as sale of alcohol was permitted, the bars attached to the shops remained closed. As a result, the tipplers who bought the liquor from the outlets were free to drink where they wanted. Our quiet lane was converted into an open-air bar during the evenings and also during the weekend.
Over the last few weeks I have lodged several complaints with the Police Control Room seeking their help with not much progress on the issue. The situation is likely to be the same across the many neighbourhoods of the city that are troubled by the presence of these liquor outlets in close proximity to residences.
With elections around the corner, one can expect more promises around the contentious TASMAC shops across the state and the earlier failed promises of the government. Now is the time all such affected citizens can raise their voices and register their complaints, and force the powers that be to take heed of this dire situation in many parts of the city and the state.