Bihar goes ahead with liquor ban: But the prohibition precedent is not very encouraging

Nitish Kumar has kept his word to women in Bihar who, he says, had wanted ban on liquor, and announced the ban with effect from 1 April in the rural areas on country liquor. Citing a favourable ‘ambience’, he pushed to cover towns and cities, making Bihar another dry state. The question is how prepared the Bihar administration is in enforcing it.

Liquor doesn’t leave a person easily or vice versa. The process of detox is slow and often painful, and the person having to undergo the process needs to be strongly motivated. A mere government policy does not lead to abstinence. If it did, Gujarat would have really remained dry. But bootleggers flourish, delivering the booze on a phone call.

There already is resentment building up among the liquor traders and consumers, and as per a report in The Hindu, a PIL has already been filed in the Patna High Court for the "arbitrary" decision. IMFL vend owners had paid for their licences on 2 April and don't know what would happen to their stocks. This points to an absence of thought on the policy implications.

De-addiction centres havs been opened in all districts. But the rush could be difficult to manage for new set-ups because they take time to start functioning efficiently.One does not yet know if the de-addiction centres are enough to cope with the policy decision of the liquor ban, but the paper reported how one drinker took to eating a soap cake and another fell unconscious.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Of course, all MLAs across party lines standing up in the legislature and swearing to abstain from consumption of alcohol was a pretty sight, and must have been reassuring to Nitish Kumar. Perhaps, that was one aspect of the ‘ambience’, that the CM spoke about. But it is unlikely that any of them would be consumers of country liquors. The oath was taken with respect to the ban on that category of liquor. A legislator would have moved up the social ladder–the lifestyle change would only be expected.

A ban on the consumption of alcohol evokes different responses from different sections. Gandhians, and others who frown at it, welcome it and hope the ban works. The drinkers, regardless of whether they drink themselves silly and empty their purses for their fix of alcohol, will find a way. The enforcers include those who welcome it because it helps run a new business – bootlegging.

It is easy to agree to abstain from something you don’t consume, like a vegetarian swearing to stay away from meat. But the day one of them asks his errand boy to go fetch a bottle of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) which too has come under the prohibition policy, the implementation of the policy will loosen. It is the same with the police, who are the enforcers of the policy.

They have also stood in uniform and swore abstinence, in public places and the not-so-public places, namely police stations. I recall that during the curfew hours in Ahmedabad when an agitation on reservations was raging, an outstation journalist walked up to a police outpost and bought his bottle of tipple from the men in uniform.

Like other states, Bihar had flirted with prohibition briefly over three decades ago and gave up in sheer frustration at not being able to enforce it. Bihar is not the only state which made this attempt. Karnataka retained only country-made arrack. Nagaland has not been able to implement its policy because like in Manipur and Mizoram, illicit booze arrives from Assam.

Tamil Nadu is a classic case of going back and forth on prohibition, having it in force in four spells, the last being four years from 1991. The erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, during Chandrababu Naidu’s stewardship, had imposed a liquor ban because the women had wanted it to save their families from ruin. But the tipplers had their way. The policy lasted only for only five years till 1997.

Haryana has a different story. Prohibition was a poll promise, like Nitish Kumar’s, and its implementation led to loss for the government. And people continued to drink because a liquor mafia took birth, frustrating the policy. Also, the state lost a whopping amount of revenue it used to get from booze.
These revenue losses are a trade-off for the imposition of prohibition. The ban in Chandrapur in Maharashtra has already impacted the state’s revenue by Rs 600 cr. Two other districts, Gadchiroli and Wardha were already dry then. Maharashtra likes to seek higher revenue from booze as duties year upon year, because it is a certain stream of money.

Bihar is going to lose an estimated Rs 3,000 to 5,000 cr per annum, and that is why perhaps, the state has not decided to ban production of the stuff. Liquor can be produced and transported to places outside by trucks using GPS. But then the industry that emerges in dry states, bootlegging, knows how to ensure that supplies sustain.

Updated Date: Apr 07, 2016 16:18 PM

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