Thursday, February 29, 2024

BEHIND PROHIBITION

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In a curious case reported from Bihar, police is quoted as saying a bootlegger sold liquor worth Rs nine lakh per day for a long time in capital Patna until his arrest three days ago. This, clearly, was just one instance. Liquor is flowing almost everywhere in the state. The implementation of the liquor ban in the state started on April Fools’ Day in 2016, as decided by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. This proved to be a foolish act as bootlegging became a lucrative business in the state, resorted to by gangs controlled from behind by powerful politicos and police officials at local levels.

A similar scenario prevailed in Gujarat for many years. Gujarat, flushed with cash, turned out to be the state with the largest consumption of liquor even as the official prohibition order was in force for decades. Liquor is easily available all over the state via backdoor channels ever since prohibition was imposed on the state in 1960. Prohibition is in force also in Mizoram, Nagaland and Lakshadweep where liquor flow is heavy as long as a person can afford it. The result is that the exchequer loses precious earnings from this business while vested interests laugh their way to the bank making a killing out of this illegal business.

That addiction to liquor is harming family life is well understood. Ordinary families where men earn small incomes are deeply hurt if the money finds its way to liquor shops. While controls might be in order, as in every other case, a total prohibition is invitation to bootlegging. Social mores are changing. Fifty years ago, life was different, socialization limited, and individual concentration on family life heavy. Yet, whether one likes it or not, liquor is integral to the success of the tourism sector. Social drinking is a norm with the upper crusts of the society. Family get-togethers and kitty parties are now essential parts of social life. Under the circumstances, a total prohibition ends up depriving the state of much needed revenue via excise duty while bootleggers, politicians and others make big money through wrong channels.

Nitish Kumar managed to get the support of women in Bihar by resorting to prohibition in the state. When almost every other state manages the scenario without such a ban, a question would arise as to why Bihar or Gujarat or two states in the North-East alone should act differently. Who gains from this is evident, yet again, from the Bihar report. This arrest is just the tip of the iceberg and fresh proof of the total mess-up in liquor policy.

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