Costs and benefits of prohibition need to be weighed before rushing in
Rahul Dass | April 6, 2016
Bihar has prohibited alcohol, becoming the fourth state in the country to do so. Slowly yet surely, it seems, India is headed towards going ‘dry’. It is a bold move.
One swallow does not a summer make, yet there is a clear trend for barring liquor. With Bihar, one of India’s most populous states, joining this bandwagon, a staggering 20 crore people now will not have access to alcohol. This means that a sixth of India’s 1.2 billion people will be impacted, which is more than the population of small countries.
While Gujarat has successfully shown the way right since its inception in 1960, other states have toyed with the idea of banning alcohol over the years. Some have succeeded, while others have been forced to do a rethink.
Today, besides Gujarat, Nagaland, Manipur (in some parts), and the union territory of Lakshadweep have banned liquor while Kerala has since August 2014 been implementing the ban in a phased manner.
Bihar banned some varieties of liquor on April 1 and on Tuesday chief minister Nitish Kumar’s cabinet extended the ban to Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) with immediate effect. No licence would be granted for sale and consumption of alcohol in places like hotels, club and bars in towns and cities across Bihar. However, army cantonment areas would be out of it.
On the face of it, banning alcohol looks like a political move that has been wrapped in a social garb. Nitish had an electoral promise to keep and the opposition had been hounding him. What better way to win brownie points from women – a huge vote bank – than by banning liquor?
Women activists are right to seek a ban on liquor as they point out liquor destroys families. But they perhaps don’t realise that this may lead to a dangerous trend of moonshine gaining traction. Hooch has repeatedly claimed lives across the country.
What is perhaps needed is a mechanism to regulate the sale of alcohol and more awareness against liquor consumption. Here Alcoholics Anonymous has been doing a yeoman’s service.
Banning alcohol also makes a huge dent in the state exchequer which can be a big problem especially when the coffers are running dry.
Also, one needs to keep in mind that a complete ban on anything is perhaps not the best solution. Enterprising Indians have always found a way to beat the ban.
Suffice it to say that Bihar may well prompt more states to copy it. Before we sign the death warrant for alcohol, we must not forget that other countries are doing just fine where liquor is not banned. India needs to sit back and think before taking any hasty decision.