On October 2, 2019, India kick-starts a year-long celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. It will be marked by hypocritical rhetorics for his contribution to our freedom but not a word about respecting one of his fondest desires—keep India liquor-free. We mentioned his wish in the Directive Principles of the States of our Constitution that States shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of consumption of alcohol. But that is where our commitment to fulfil his dream ended.
Barring Bihar and Mizoram, remaining 27 States and seven Union Territories have virtually turned into bootleggers. The Government of Kerala has become the vendor for selling alcohol. And in Tamil Nadu, its State Marketing Corporation runs 4,800 alcohol-selling shops, outnumbering 2,550 schools and boasts of 20 per cent annual growth in alcohol sales and 65 per cent increase in alcohol consumption among youths.
The opponents to prohibition argue that it denies tipsters’ fundamental right to drink what they like, causes a loss of over 30 to 40 per cent of the total revenue that are usually spent on infrastructure projects and social welfare schemes and forces the States to levy additional taxes to cover the revenue deficiency and meet expenses on enforcing prohibition. It also leads to illegal sale of toddy, arrack and methanol in black market, causing loss of innocent lives. Sounds outrageously simplistic.
The social benefits of prohibition seem to have no takers. Who cares if consumption of alcohol puts safety of womenfolk in danger, triggers domestic violence, causes deaths due to drunken driving and deadly brawls in the neighbourhood on petty matters and makes youths addicts and useless for any productive work.
Some states have tried to fulfil the Mahatma’s wish, though mockingly. In Gujarat, visitors and foreigners can buy liquor on permit but there is no bar on locals sharing them with beneficiaries. Nagaland allows sale of only Indian-made foreign liquor but has turned blind to rampant sale of local booze. Funnily, Manipur has lifted ban on liquor sale from five districts leaving you guessing how the remaining 11 districts will remain dry in such a quixotic dispensation.
Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s chief minister, has proved that prohibition is neither a financial nor a political nightmare. He has made up Rs 4,000 crore annual revenue loss by rationalising tax burden. As a result, his state has seen a jump in rural savings that, in turn, has led to 30-50 per cent rise in consumption of food products and purchase of appliances, two-wheelers and construction material.
Instances of murder, gang robberies, traffic accidents, domestic violence have gone down by 20 to 30 per cent. No wonder, a thankful populace voted for him massively in May parliamentary elections. Mizoram’s new MNF Government has also imposed total prohibition, fulfilling its commitment to women voters during the run-up to recent state assembly elections. Nitish Kumar has unequivocally demonstrated that prohibition is realisable. It is now for other chief ministers to stop crying of distress and follow him to make the Mahatma proud of his errant countrymen.