Prohibition: Nothing fails like failure; Bihar consumes more liquor than Maharashtra

Despite Prohibition in force since 2016, Bihar apparently consumes more liquor than Maharashtra, as per a National Family Health survey 2019-2020

Prohibition: Nothing fails like failure; Bihar consumes more liquor than Maharashtra

Abdul Qadir

Na Khuda hi mila na wisal-e-sanam’ (Neither got God’s favour, nor union with the beloved) sums up Prohibition in Bihar. The policy has drawn flak for being unimaginative, whimsical and for its shoddy implementation. The recent hooch tragedies in which more than three dozen lives were lost in November have also exposed the fault lines of a flop show.

Five years after its high decibel implementation, the Prohibition Policy has come to be identified as one of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s inexplicable fads.

Prohibition in the state has merely served to replace authorised liquor traders with bootleggers and home delivery of the ‘contraband’ item. Prohibition has also been an economic disaster for the poor state, which has been losing Rs.5,000 crore or more annually. The vast majority of the people put in jail for defying Prohibition are ironically again from the disadvantaged sections of the people. Experts also fear that a disproportionate amount of time, energy and resources have gone into enforcing Prohibition. Official records suggest that about four lakh litres of liquor have been seized, 60,000 vehicles impounded and penal action taken against 6,000 police and excise department officials taken for their alleged connivance with illicit liquor peddlers.

Liquor is of course freely available at a price. The draconian provisions have come in handy for the police and others to settle scores and a large number of innocent people are alleged to have been framed. Not surprisingly, the list of violators almost totally excludes people in politics, bureaucracy, judiciary, police, medical professionals and other influential sections, a majority of whom are known to be fond of their daily tipple.

Porous borders with Jharkhand, West Bengal, UP and Nepal have also helped script the obituary of the Prohibition Policy. Liqour smugglers have come up with innovative ideas to hoodwink law enforcing agencies and one such technique involves the use of ambulances, which are known to have used to transport sand in the state, to carry the contraband.

Prohibition has also hit the hospitality sector with event managers shifting venues for product launches, corporate events and conferences to neighbouring states, points out hotelier Sanjay Singh.

Vidhwa hone se achcha hai daroobaz ki biwi hona (Being the wife of a drunkard is any day better than being a hooch widow), exclaims Savitri Devi, a daily wager. But while Prohibition was held out as an exemplary move to liberate women from domestic abuse, addiction for liquor among women in the disadvantaged sections is not insignificant, points out activist Arun Kumar Prasad.

A seven-hour long meeting presided over by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar this week decided to launch a fresh crackdown on people defying Prohibition, which was imposed in the state in 2016. The meeting was convened in the wake of deaths following consumption of illicit liquor. While 30 such incidents were reported in November alone, 90 deaths have been reported this year due to consumption of spurious liquor.

The meeting apparently paid no heed to the plea made by the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC) to withdraw prohibition. The meeting instead resolved to crack down on the clandestine but rampant home delivery of liquor in the state; and take steps to reduce smuggling liquor from neighbouring states. CIABC had ironically cited a recent National Family Health Survey 2019-20 report which claimed that Bihar consumed more liquor than Maharashtra.

“Reports also suggest that 90% of illegal sale of liquor is among poor and backward people. Similarly, liquor-related cases have not only badly affected judicial administration but have also led to overflowing of jails as there are over 4.5 lakh liquor-related cases pending in the state,” the Confederation held in a memorandum addressed to all the NDA constituents in the state.

“The CIABC has asked Mr Kumar to direct liquor factories to hire 50% of their workforce as women. The CIABC has also proposed a special cess on the sale of liquor to fund alcohol de-addiction & rehabilitation centres. It has suggested penal compounding of existing liquor-related cases in order to cut down the massive backlog as well as to help the state earn additional revenues to the tune of Rs.1,000 crores,” it added.

The Bihar CM is known to be stubborn. And even before Tuesday’s review meeting, there were doubts he would go back on Prohibition. Politically he gains nothing by taking a U-turn but stands to lose face.

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