New Delhi/Kohima : The liquor Prohibition law of Bihar came in 2016.
In 2022 after six years and more India is debating hooch row. Not many are surprised. In 2016 itself within minutes of the announcement that prohibition had been enforced in governance-starved Bihar, microblogging site Twitter and social networking Facebook were on fire.
One missive that went viral was –‘ Breaking news: Bihar announces massive investments in bootlegging industry’.
Nagaland politicians say the new row in Bihar is not surprising at all. Hooch tragedies and bootlegging are generally the outcome of prohibition laws wherever they have been imposed.
In 2016 yet again, reports had claimed that at a meeting in Forbesganj in Bihar, Indian authorities sought help from their Nepali counterparts to curb the movement of people seeking alcohol from Nepal.
In Christian-dominated Mizoram; Prohibition law prevailed for 18 years. At onetime, one Mizoram Governor had said, “Mizoram is the wettest dry state in the country. Not a comment to be proud of. Let’s not indulge in hypocrisy”.
BJP MPs from Bihar on December 22, held a protest in Parliament complex demanding compensation for the families of those killed in the hooch tragedy in the State. Some BJP leaders even demanded resignation of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Even as the Bihar Government has confirmed 38 deaths in the Saran hooch tragedy, the figures have been contested by the BJP leaders.
The saffron party leaders say that more than 100 people have died in Bihar.
Christian-majority Mizoram had brought in prohibition under the pressure of church bodies as was the case in Nagaland but lifted this in July 2014 after 18 years of struggling with its failure.
In Nagaland, the Congress leaders had succumbed to emotional blackmail by the Nagaland Baptist Church Council and the Naga Mothers Association and enacted new Prohibition laws. But the move only hit cash-starved Nagaland Govt revenue and encouraged bootleggers in neighbouring Assam.
Thus many say Bihar’s Nitish Kumar Government should have been more pragmatic before announcing prohibition as this cost Nagaland or Mizoram dearly in terms of revenue and only helped bootleggers.
“I think this prohibition idea is itself is a folly. Prohibition has either failed as in Nagaland or Manipur,” says a former Nagaland Minister adding, people have realised it well even in states such as Maharashtra and hence the law was amended. Sources say the Maharashtra law was amended as illegal cases and smuggling of alcohol from other districts were a matter of concern. One data also had come to light that there was a loss of Rs 2571 crore in revenue in five years.
Even in Gujarat the prohibition law that was brought in 1949 was amended in 2014 when the state was to host the 7th Vibrant Gujarat Summit. The changed law had permitted hotel managers and liquor shops to issue permits.
In Bihar, the liquor ban had resulted in revenue loss of around Rs 5000 crore. Even in Bihar, the 2016 law was amended in 2018 only after two years. In 2022 yet again the Nitish Kumar government brought in another amendment and created a provision under which those caught drinking for the first time in Bihar could be released with a fine of maximum Rs 3000 and would not be sent to jail.
In Manipur prohibition was brought in 1991 and for more reasons than one everyone seemed to believe in its limitations.
There have been reports of bootlegging and increase in drug abuse.
In July 2014, the State Government informed the Manipur assembly that State authorities favoured exploring options of lifting prohibition. It was also suggested that the country liquor produced in Manipur by scheduled castes and tribes be sold in other states “for revenue”.
Prohibition had been in force in what is now Tamil Nadu since pre-Independence days and was lifted in 1971. It was again briefly imposed in 1974 before being lifted.
Prohibition was imposed in Haryana in July 1996 by the government headed by then chief minister Bansi Lal. However, it remained in force only till March 31, 1998. One of the reasons is that neighbouring Punjab has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of liquor, so it was always easily available.
Rajasthan briefly flirted with prohibition in 1977-79.
Around 2015-16, revenue loss also bothered Kerala when the State Government decided to impose total prohibition by 2023.
“Alcohol helps in giving Kerala’s economy a good high – shockingly, more than 40 percent of revenues for its annual budget come from booze,” a posting on the BBC website said.
In all these states, experience shows demand for prohibition is mostly guided by populism.
Little wonder then, that in 2016 late film star Rishi Kapoor retorted in the context of Bihar, “Any law which tries to stop the people from doing something (by force or law) is bound to fail.”