Prohibition may be more a moral ideal than a policy objective. It may be socially desirable, but arguably a governance nightmare. Many states have dabbled with the idea but there is not much to write home about. The ruling parties in Bihar were merely fulfilling a poll promise when the State government imposed prohibition of liquor consumption in the state. The new Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 is considered to be one of the toughest anti-liquor laws in the country.
Now questions are being raised about the stringent law, particularly those pertaining to collective punishments such as community fines on a whole village, as reported in the media, and arrest of all adult members of a family. The government should proffer logical and convincing explanations and rationale for such quaint and draconian provisions. An elected government is well within its rights to fulfil electoral promises. However, in the case of liquor prohibition in Bihar, the decision-making process leaves much to be desired. The decision and its legislation appear to have been taken in a hurry, with little or no time for discussion and debate. The law was passed after a three-hour long debate which saw walk-out by the Opposition parties, which mooted 17 changes in vain. Instead of using its strength in the Assembly to bulldoze laws, the government should engage with the Opposition and other stakeholders to tweak and improve the Act.
The Bihar government should consider evaluating the impact of prohibition. It would help in course correction. In such a scenario, the Opposition should desist from scoring political points. Even in a state like the undivided Andhra Pradesh which had witnessed a massive anti-liquor agitation, in the mid-90s, the government was forced to lift prohibition as it could not check illicit distillation and smuggling. Persuasion is better than coercion, though both have so far not yielded desired results.