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Gujarat confidential: Against Liquor Ban

Former Gujarat Chief Minister Shankersinh Vaghela has launched a campaign against prohibition of alcohol in the state, on social media questioning the intention of the state government, when “alcohol is freely available in every corner at five times the market price”.

Vaghela posted a message, urging people to join the “Against Liquor Ban Challenge” hashtag. He argued that money from the illegal sale of alcohol goes to black marketers, instead of the state treasury.

Several Twitter users came out in support of the campaign, one even saying that he/she did not drink but supported Vaghela’s campaign to decriminalise drinking, to which Vaghela responded saying, “Even I stopped drinking long back but to fight for Gujarat’s future, we need to stop this drama!” Vaghela had famously launched a 52 hour fast as union textile minister at the Gandhi ashram at Kocharab in 2007 to protest the then CM Narendra Modi government’s decision to relax prohibition laws for SEZs ostensibly to attract investment.

Not The C-Virus

Former Gujarat BJPpresident Jitu Vaghani was conspicuous by his absence in the recently concluded monsoon session of the Gujarat Assembly. Vaghani, an MLA from Bhavnagar West constituency is allotted seat in the front row of the ruling BJP’s benches in the House. Vaghani’s absence from the House for all five days of the session made people doubtful whether he was absent due to Covid-19. However, as stated by BJP chief whip Pankaj Desai, Vaghani tested negative for Covid-19 but was down with seasonal viral fever that kept him away from the House.

Liquor Prohibition – A critical Analysis

Prohibition

Prohibition is the illegality of the manufacturing, storage in barrels or bottles, transportation, sale, possession, and consumption of alcohol including alcoholic beverages, or a period of time during which such illegality was enforced.

In India, Alcohol consumption has always been overshadowed by a sense of moral judgment that has driven the demands for prohibition. Consequently, policies related to the consumption of alcohol are generally shaped by this moral ambiguity rather than a comprehensive liquor policy.

Constitutional provisions

In the aftermath of independence, the Indian government did not impose a centralized regulation regarding alcohol consumption.

Under 7th schedule it is a subject of state list.

The entry 51 in the State List makes “Alcohol for human consumption” a subject matter of states. This provides states the power to make laws and charge duties on alcoholic liquors for human consumption.

Article 47 under directive principles directs the states to take measures to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.

This article directs that the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.

Most liquor ban policies are justified on the basis of this article.

Prohibition in India

At the moment, complete prohibition is enforced in the states of Gujarat, Bihar, Nagaland, and the union territory of Lakshadweep.

In Gujarat, prohibition is implemented since its formation in 1960.

In Nagaland, Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act (NLTP) banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in 1989.

Bihar government has put a complete prohibition of alcohol in the state in 2016

Gujarat and Bihar are the states that prescribe death penalty for manufacturers, suppliers and sellers of hooch in cases of death due to spurious liquor consumption

Kerala currently allows alcohol to be served in three star hotels and above, bars and airports.

In 2014, congress government in Kerala advocate for total prohibition in phased manner.

But, ban was eased when left government came in power in 2016 citing loss in revenue and tourism Industry.

In Manipur there is a partial ban in a few districts.

Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, and Mizoram are states that have experimented with partial or complete ban on liquor.

In 2016, Supreme Court banned the sale of all liquor within 500m of highways to counter drunken driving.

However, SC later clarified that high way liquor ban imposed by it is not applicable to licensed bars and beverages outlets within municipal area.

Arguments in favour of prohibition

To reduce crime and corruption.

ADRI report on prohibition in Bihar noted there was a 66.6% dip in cases of kidnapping for ransom, followed by 28.3% dip in murder cases and 2.3% in dacoity.

To reduce the state’s expenditureotherwise spend on public health and law & order.

To improve health and hygiene.

ADRI report finds an impressive rise in sale of honey (380%), cheeses (200%), butter milk (40%), flavoured milk (28.4%) and lassi (19.7%)

To bring positive impact on women and families.

ADRI report observed that 58% women feel they were given more respect and played a better role in making household decisions

Prohibition helps money to get directed towards health and education in family. It paves way for development.

ADRI study on Prohibition in Bihar pointed out that 19% of households acquired new assets from the money they earlier splurged on alcohol.

In India, the common mass is generally occasional drinker. Curtailing alcohol supply will in hand curtail their drinking behavior.

According to NCRB data, 15 people die every day – or one every 96 minutes – from the effects of drinking alcohol.

Many accidents are fuelled by alcohol.

Many a times it leads to sexual harassment of women and robberies.

Arguments against prohibition

Revenue from excise meant for welfare schemes to vulnerable sections is reduced.

Prohibition is contrary to fundamental right of freedom of choice and right to privacy as well.

It is against the customary culture and tradition of many societies.

During constituent assembly debate Jaipal Singh of Bihar opposed prohibition, speaking in favour of the adivasi communities that traditionally brewed and consumed alcohol.

It impacted the tourism and hospitality industry.

Sometimes it may lead to loss of business & investment opportunities from the states.

Carlsberg which had agreed to setup breweries plant in Patna had to relocate owing to Bihar liquor prohibition law.

It causes unemploymentand adversely affects livelihoods of many.

The whole process of production and consumption of alcohol becomes completely unregulated as it operates outside the radar of the government.

Instead of decreasing corruption, prohibition became a basis for corruption in public life.

The problem of adulterated and methanol related consumption of liquor increases.

It may lead to consumption of other unregulated drinks and drugs like taadi and mahua.

An additional expenditure in terms of investment in the personnel required to implement prohibition.

Women and families form part of the network of illicit liquor markets, either voluntarily or through coercion and/or due to economic compulsions.

Aspects that need to be considered while framing a liquor policy

The principal reason why many prohibition strategy fail is because they seem to be based on the simplistic assumption that cutting off the supply impacts effective demand for alcohol.

State governments should have to be prepared to deal rapidly with the management of man-made disasters such as liquor tragedies.

Increase legal age of drinking and bring about uniformity in the same across all the states.

Ban marketing and advertisement of all kinds so as to contain its reach and spread.

De-addiction and rehabilitation centers should be made easily and widely accessible and be fully functional before any decision on prohibition is taken.

The medical fraternity needs to be educated in rapidly responding to and treating victims of liquor tragedies.

A stronger rule to monitor the use of methanol and frame policies that award a severe penalty for its diversion towards uses other than those for which it was acquired. Governments could consider linking de-addiction centers with primary health centers in rural areas.

Invest in creating better awareness among citizens about the negative impact of alcohol consumption.

Document good practices tried and tested by NGOs and other institutions for managing alcohol problems not only within the country but also outside the country.

Civil society should demand from its political parties a comprehensive policy that addresses all the related issues instead of uncritically demanding or accepting proclamations of prohibition.

Political parties need to have a clear vision of what they are trying to achieve—prevention of consumption of alcohol or liquor poisoning—as the two are contrary goals.

Community based approach should be adopted to tackle the problem of alcoholism.

Many addicted people struggle with a sense of isolation from their society. Community based approach would provide the addicts and their families with not only emotional support but also the validation of being part of a community.

A pragmatic approach that accepts drinking as part of the social culture and aims to regulate it is likely to be a more effective stance rather than taking a moralistic or emotional view that views drinking as the purveyor of all evils.

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