Death penalty in UP following hooch tragedies may be another way of introducing blanket ban on liquor

The Uttar Pradesh government's decision to introduce death penalty for culprits found guilty of producing hooch may be another way of introducing a blanket ban on liquor consumption. The stringent move comes days after the BJP-led Goa government promised strict action against people found drinking on beaches in the state.

After a hooch tragedy in July in Azamgarh and Varanasi claimed 21 lives, the Uttar Pradesh government on Wednesday decided that those responsible for the deaths or permanent disability of people after consuming spurious liquor will attract death penalty or life imprisonment.

According to The Times of India, the new law aims at cracking down on the nexus between excise department employees and illicit liquor traders. The Hindu reported, "the BJP-ruled state Cabinet approved changes to the existing Excise Act, 1910, to incorporate the extreme punishment in cases of hooch deaths."

 Death penalty in UP following hooch tragedies may be another way of introducing blanket ban on liquor

Representational image. AFP

This is just one of the many instances where the state Cabinets took a similar decision to crack down on illicit liquor ban and then announce a blanket ban.

In Goa, tourism minister Manohar Ajgaonkar told Outlook: "The beaches should be clean and there should not be any illegality on them. We have also stopped people drinking on the beaches. We will not mind arresting them if required."

The report further said that in May 2017, Goa Police arrested people who were found drinking in public places, after citizens complained about the menace at a meeting in Calangute.

In other instances of crackdown, stocks of liquor were seemingly destroyed in an "arbitrary" decision. Liquor manufacturers from Bihar alleged that the state government destroyed stocks worth Rs 5 crore, as per another article by Outlook.

According to the article, "the manufacturers told a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra that it was 'unfair' on the part of the state to destroy these stock as they had informed Bihar's counsel about the application filed by them in the apex court in the matter."

The move by the Uttar Pradesh government can also be seen similar to the 2016 liquor ban in Bihar. According to India Today, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said that even Uttar Pradesh ought to ban alcohol: "I wish the state government here had taken a cue from the experiment in the neighbouring Bihar where we have banned sale and consumption of liquor."

Since the provisions of the Excise Act were old, as per the BJP government, it felt that if harsher punitive clauses were included, there can be “effective control” of trafficking and manufacturing of illicit liquor.

Uttar Pradesh excise minister Jai Pratap Singh told CNN-News 18, “The capital punishment will not just curb deaths due to hooch consumption but at the same time it will also put an end to the smuggling of illicit liquor from neighbouring states. This will also increase state revenue.”

However, Singh's statement seems contradictory since banning liquor was ruled out in Uttar Pradesh. On 19 July, 2017, Adityanath ruled out banning liquor, saying that the revenue from excise could be used for welfare and development in the state.

Jai Pratap Singh himself told the state Assembly: "Banning liquor sale will indirectly promote illicit liquor sale and people will start purchasing from illegal sources which will adversely affect their health," as per an article by Outlook.

What seems to be the major issue is that even though women have taken out protests, as per Hindustan Times, against the liquor mafia in Uttar Pradesh, the menace of alcoholism seems to have been forgotten. The article mentions that women have participated in sporadic campaigns against liquor. Their protests largely occurred only after a hooch tragedy took place.

Awareness on alcoholism, hence, needs to be more explicit. Furthermore, the article questions the banning of country liquor, which has not been initiated by anyone.

In 2015, country liquor claimed nearly 100 lives in the Mumbai suburb of Malad, as per NDTV. And nearly 45 people were in hospitals due to the mass alcohol poisoning incident.

Perhaps, this is where the Centre should take note that imposing a death penalty on producers of hooch could scare a few culprits away, but alcoholism should also be kept in check without a blanket ban.

Updated Date: Sep 21, 2017 18:43:16 IST