In the true democracy of India, the unit is the village. Every village has to become a self sufficient republic.” Mahatma Gandhi

Today, the National Panchayati Raj Day was observed with a call from the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to act collectively in bringing decentralisation of self governance at the grass roots level.

He said that though the concept of Self Government has now constitutional and legal recognition but still we have to go a long way in developing each village as a model village under the scheme Pradhan Mantri Adrash Gram Yojana.

Concerned over Punjab Government not giving much heed to the resolutions by various village Panchayats on ‘no liquor vend’ in their respective villages, Sangrur Member of Parliament , Shri Vijayinder Singla has decided to financially empower the Panchayats passing resolutions against liquor use (Liquor free village).

A silent Freedom From Alcohol Movement is emerging in Punjab and Haryana. Over 200 village panchayats have requested their state Governments to shut down liquor vends in their villages. Nearly half of them have been closed down already.

India was among the first countries in the world to raise an alarm against alcohol. However, since then, it has not been able to put in place an effective alcohol control policy.  The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, is working on developing a national alcohol policy.

In the year 2010, the then Union Minister of Social Justice & Empowerment, Shri Mukul Wasnik had said that efforts would be made for sensitization and involvement of panchayats at grass roots level to facilitate awareness and to reduce harm related to substance use. Last year, he again reassured on the occasion of International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking for presenting a blue print for extensive involvement of Panchayat in substance abuse treatment, prevention and reintegration of drug users. He also shared that not a single Panchayat have approached Ministry of Social Justice, despite a specific provision being made under the revised scheme for assistance to Panchayati Raj Institutions.

Draft of the proposed alcohol policy is yet to see the light of the day.  Does proposed alcohol policy will pave the way for effective convergence and become a basis for linkages in developing a national response to this social problem as a supplement to medical model.

Firstly, Panchayats are yet to collaborate with the Ministry of Social Justice and empowerment. Panchayats being the first and grass roots level of governance can play the most effective role in sensitization, prevention and referral of potential substance abusers and thereby provide social impetus to growing needs and problems of today’s village in a marketing driven environment where alcohol is increasingly treated as an ordinary commodity although it is not, and in fact a great obstacle to development of villages, communities, and whole societies.

Can the Panchayats be given the freedom to decide on community well being and help in creating an enabling environment  in realizing the dream of Mahtama Gandhi in making each village a self sufficient republic. Would the proposed alcohol policy be able to take up this initiative towards decentralization of the management of community based programmes for alcohol abuse? Perhaps that’s the need of the hour!!!!!