By Advait Moharir
The Nitish Kumar government has announced that no officials of the State government are allowed to consume alcohol outside the State or country. This decision comes nearly nine months after he introduced prohibition in the State by banning production, consumption and sale of liquor with immediate effect. With Bihar being the only State to pass such a stringent law, the debate on the utility of prohibition and the laws surrounding it has re-ignited.
Prohibition: A not-so-effective-law
The rationale behind prohibition is that alcohol is harmful for the general well being of the population, especially women, who are at the receiving end of the violence caused due to drunkenness. Prohibition goes back a long way in India. The first state to have completely banned alcohol was Gujarat, where prohibition exists since its formation in 1960s. While the laws in Gujarat have become nuanced over time, allowing for alcohol consumption if you are a tourist, or if it is a “medical necessity”, it is clear that the experiment hasn’t worked. It is a well known fact that people have found various ways to acquire alcohol. Reports say that it can be delivered to your doorstep faster than a pizza!
[su_pullquote]In Bihar itself, indicators are emerging that prohibition has not worked.[/su_pullquote]
Similarly, states like Mizoram have tried banning alcohol, but have had to revoke the law due to an unprecedented rise in consumption of spurious alcohol, which has immediate negative health impacts. In Bihar itself, indicators are emerging that prohibition has not worked. There is a 13% rise in crime rate, showing that the correlation between prohibition and crime rate is a dubious one.A roller crushes liquor bottles at Koba village 18 km north from Ahmedabad | Photo Courtesy: Reuters
Bihar’s experiment: Playing with fire
Though the indicators were clear that prohibition is hard to implement in India, Nitish Kumar went ahead with it, partly because of it being a popular pre-poll promise. The conviction behind the law was to change the consumption lifestyles of those affected by alcoholism.
Kumar hoped that after the ban, alcohol consumers would shift to nutritious diets and spend on consumer essentials.
While the intentions are noble, the government is taking it too far with certain further amendments to the law which are very stringent. One such amendment is punishment for family members for someone found drunk. Adults of family members “complicit” to the crime can face jail for up-to ten years. The other amendment includes the current one – banning government officers from consuming alcohol not only outside the state, but anywhere in the world. While the government is trying to show that it is very serious about this, there seems to be no logical explanation for both these measures.
Prohibition: A futile experiment
The problem here lies in the government’s method. It is trying to close down all possible routes for acquiring alcohol. However, historical precedent shows that the more you try to clamp down, the more the subjects of the law will try to find ways to find loopholes and exploit the same. Alcoholism is a deep rooted social problem. Recognized as an addiction, those affected by it need other forms of medical help to reduce it. Prohibition only aggravates the need for alcohol – hence the rise in illicit alcohol sales.
[su_pullquote]Prohibition only aggravates the need for alcohol – hence the rise in illicit alcohol sales.[/su_pullquote]
Other issues include lack of popular support for such a ban. While women definitely support the ban, it is clear that many do not. The reason is alcoholism is created out of multiple social problems – one being unemployment – high unemployment numbers create an unproductive workforce who resort to alcoholism to while the time away. Another issue is the reluctance of officials in implementation – alcohol is a huge revenue generator – excise duty for alcohol accounted for one-fifth of Kerala’s revenue in 2014. Many officials were caught in a huge scam that involved them illegally granting licenses to liquor shops across the State.
Alternatives to prohibition
There is a need to recognize that banning alcohol is a surface level law that doesnt help structurally demolish alcoholism. In the short term, the amendments need to be revoked with immediate effect, and replaced with a phased policy, like Kerala has. Rewards and incentive based policies like spike in employment benefits for families giving up alcohol should be made. In the long run, detailed surveys need to be conducted to find the causes and nature of alcoholism throughout the State. Opportunities for education and employment need to be increased. There need to be medical alternatives to help cure alcoholism – this includes provisions for counselling.
Thus, it is clear that the battle against alcoholism is a long drawn one, and policy makers need to ask the right questions. Only then will prohibition achieve its desired end.
Featured Image Credits: Must Share News
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