India's leading alcohol tycoon criticises 'political hypocrites'

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The Independent Online

India's leading alcohol tycoon has criticised the “political hypocrites” who control the country’s only dry state after more than 130 people died from drinking tainted home-made liquor.

In a broadside against Narendra Modi and his senior officials in the western state of Gujarat, Vijay Mallya said it was an open secret that alcohol was available in the state but at increased prices. Poor people were risking their lives as a result.

“The death of more than hundred people resulting from the consumption of spurious liquor is not only tragic but should act as a wake-up call for our political hypocrites,” said Mr Mallya who heads the UB Group, the world’s second largest distiller, which produces many of India’s best-selling brands.

“The farce of prohibition which cannot be enforced leads to illegal, unhygienic and unsupervised production of deadly cocktails which claim innocent lives,” Mr Mallya added.

Several of India’s states have passed and then dropped prohibition laws over the years. Cities such as Rishikesh ban alcohol on religious grounds, but Gujarat – birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, who campaigned strongly against drinking – is the only place where alcohol remains illegal state-wide. Mafia gangs and corrupt officials ensure a steady supply, at increased rates.

The perilous nature of the cheaper alterative has been underlined by the deaths of more than 130 people in Ahmedabad after drinking so-called “country liquor”. Plastic pouches of such hooch are often sold for as little as 10 rupees (13 pence).

Mr Modi, a right-wing firebrand who had been named as a possible national leader of the Hindu nationalist BJP before its election failure, has yet to respond to Mr Mallyas’s claims. His health minister, Jaynarayan Vyas said: “Mallya has a vested interest and he should be the last person to comment… Similar tragedies have taken place on a much bigger scale in non-prohibition states.”