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Toddy-tappers take on EPS, Stalin

By A GANESH NADAR
March 20, 2021 11:41 IST
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The Tamil Nadu Toddy Movement had met both Chief Minister Palaniswami and Stalin to seek their intervention in lifting the ban on toddy-tapping and had submitted petitions, but there it remained.
So the matter is being taken to the people's court.

IMAGE: DMK Working President M K Stalin, right, calls on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami at the state secretariat in Chennai, February 13, 2018. Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam can be seen second from left, with other senior ministers. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

Toddy-tapping, or extraction of toddy, as well as consumption of the palm extract was banned in Tamil Nadu more than three decades ago, even as the practice flourishes in its neighbouring states, notably Kerala where it has almost been elevated into a tourist attraction.

Toddy-tappers in Tamil Nadu have been protesting this ban on various occasions and in novel ways, but to no avail. Their latest form of protest is the ultimate in democracy: To put up candidates against the two chief ministerial candidates in the assembly election due on April, 6, 2021.

The Tamil Nadu Toddy Movement is spearheading this protest, and its state convenor L Kathiresan filed his nomination for the Edappadi assembly constituency from where the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's chief ministerial candidate, incumbent Edappadi K Palaniswami, is contesting the poll.

The TTM is also putting up a candidate in the Kolathur assembly constituency in Chennai where the Opposition DMK's chief ministerial candidate M K Stalin is contesting from.

C Nallasami, president of the Tamil Nadu Toddy Movement told A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com that there was no ban on toddy in 108 nations around the world.

"Five years back when Chief Minister Nitish Kumar banned liquor in Bihar, he did not ban toddy," he claims, as he rolls out other facts.

In neighbouring Kerala, he said, the former Congress-led United Democratic Front government had brought in prohibition step by step, but did not ban toddy.

When the Supreme Court gave a direction to close liquor shops on highways (which it felt led to drunken driving accidents), the Kerala government closed liquor shops but not toddy shops, Nallasami explains.

Even during the pandemic induced lockdown, liquor shops were closed, but toddy shops remained open in Kerala, according to him.

"Toddy consumption is a right to food as per Article 47 of the Constitution, and so it should not be banned," declares Nallasami.

The said Article, however, while enjoining the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health, it also says the 'State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health'.

The government says that toddy is bad for health, it also says that Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) and other liquor are equally bad for health. "But they have to prove this claimed," Nallasami emphasises.

According to him, the test in law is -- if it is evil which is the lesser evil -- toddy or IMFL? The government has to answer this question also, he stresses.

Toddy-tapping is not banned is any of the states bordering Tamil Nadu -- Kerala, Andhra, Puducherry and Karnataka. So why in only Tamil Nadu banning it, he wanted to know. "We want justice, we want the rule of law," he declares.

Toddy-tappers are charged under the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act for any violation. "Do we follow the Constitution of India's Article 47, or the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act? That is the question," he says.

About the electoral contest ahead, he said they were not bothered about how many votes they would get or about winning in the elections. "We want the voters to know what is happening in Tamil Nadu is against the Constitution," Nallasami says.

As part of canvassing for votes in these two constituencies, he said the TTM will distribute notices that well-wishers will print for them, so they will not be spending any money on it. "It is just one more avenue for us to let people know our problems and that we would like the ban on toddy-tapping to be lifted," he says.

The TTM had met both Chief Minister Palaniswami and Stalin to seek their intervention in lifting the ban on toddy-tapping and had submitted petitions, but there it remained. So the matter is being taken to the people's court.

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A GANESH NADAR / Rediff.com
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