An Indian employee writes down stock at an alcohol store in Hyderabad on February 28, 2013. India's government on Thursday earmarked $1.9 billion for a populist programme to combat malnutrition, a move seen as a major vote winner for the ruling Congress party in elections next year. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM
An Indian employee writes down stock at an alcohol store in Hyderabad on February 28, 2013. India's government on Thursday earmarked $1.9 billion for a populist programme to combat malnutrition, a move seen as a major vote winner for the ruling Congress party in elections next year. AFP PHOTO / Noah SEELAM
Aarti Shastry
Complete Prohibition Is Not Going To Work

States impose prohibition only to revoke them later— the revenue from liquor is too high for state government to let go of, and prohibition itself proves to be an administrative failure

Recently, the Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, made a statement saying that he would impose a total ban on the consumption of liquor if he is voted back into power in the upcoming Bihar elections. This statement came in the wake of the umpteen number of requests made by the women SHG groups in Bihar keeping in light the pernicious indirect effects of alcohol, especially inflicted on women.

Promises of prohibition may help the current chief minister earn brownie points from these women folk, but it is impossible to foresee or predict the sustainability of such a measure if it is put in effect.

Banning of Liquor is not uncommon in India

Gujarat faced a prohibition on liquor since its separation from the Bombay State in 1961. It was one of the first states in India to impose such a ban on liquor which is usually the lifeblood of the economy of the state, considering the large amount of excise revenue it brings. The ban, even though there have been several measures to relax it, came from a moralistic and righteous point of view, Gujarat being the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. However, this restriction imposed has not deemed to be as propitious as people would find it.

The year 2007 revealed the abysmal state of affairs the state had drowned itself in, with respect to liquor consumption. During the wee hours of the morning in the month of July, hundreds of men and women were admitted to hospitals in Ahmedabad, exposing the state to a “hooch tragedy”.

Several lives were claimed in this bizarre event coming from Gujarat that was seemingly an alcohol-free state. This incident showed the nation that the state was living a blissful lie for over forty years.While on the face of it Gujarat rejoiced the fact that it was “dry state”, it was unaware of the dubious activities that lurched underground.

Post the incident, several experts and critics have asserted that alcohol had always been freely flowing within the state, and by preventing the sale of liquor, production of spurious liquor and bootlegging had been going on rampantly.

There have been records of various states across India that have gone from banning the sale and consumption of alcohol to lifting the ban imposed. In most cases, despite “moralistic opinion”, the ban was lifted due to meet with the increasing expenditures of the state and the paucity of finance.

Andhra Pradesh: A.P faced a brief ban on liquor after several protests held by the women, from 1995 to 1997. The ban was lifted because of the rise in the budget deficit in the state.

Haryana: Haryana imposed prohibition for less than two years between 1996 and 1998. This did not bring good news for the political alliance in power at the time or for the state’s finances. The Haryana Vikas Party-BJP alliance that was responsible for the ban in the state lost five seats during the 1998 elections.

Mizoram: Mizoram lifted its 18-year-ban on liquor as recent as last year. The bill “Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Bill 2014” was introduced in the parliament despite several opposition to the lifting of prohibition by voluntary organizations. The state government not only cited spurious liquor as the reason for introducing the new bill but also that it was losing revenue on liquor.

Tamil Nadu: Alcohol Prohibition laws in Tamil Nadu has faced an intermittent history. T.N. has had a checkered pattern of bans and lifting bans right from pre-independence times. However, today, liquor is freely flowing in the state.

On the one hand the directive principle of state policy asks for prohibiting “the consumption of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health” and on the other it is said that such taxes on liquor help the development agenda (mostly welfare!) of a state government.

Empirical evidence in Gujarat has shown that there can never be an absolute ban on anything, let alone liquor. People have demonstrated ways to circumvent the system, and most of the times go as far as obtaining dangerous and harmful substances that pose a threat to life and well-being.

Having said this, we cannot discount the fact that the ill-effects of alcohol are alarming. It is the responsibility of the governments in power to keep checks on the evils of alcohol. They must devise regulatory methods to curb the ill effects of alcoholism rather than impose an absolute ban which are known to have dire consequences. Until then, talk of prohibition is just brinkmanship.