Indian State Bans Alcohol to Stop Violence

Published: 27th November 2015 08:34 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th November 2015 08:34 AM   |  A+A-

Alcohol is to be banned in India's third most populous state, a policy affecting nearly 100?million people, in an attempt to stop violence against women and a rise in crime.

Prohibition will be introduced to Bihar in northern India from April 1 next year, after the chief minister said he would honour a pledge made to women's groups ahead of recent state elections.

"Women in the state started an anti-liquor campaign," said Nitish Kumar, announcing the ban yesterday (Thursday).

"Increasing liquor consumption was a major cause for domestic violence, particularly against women, and had contributed to a rise in crimes. I have instructed my officials to start working towards this [ban] and implement this from the next financial year."

Due to Bihar's massive population, the ban will be one of the largest in the world, with only the blanket restriction in operation in Pakistan and Bangladesh affecting larger populations.

A handful of other, smaller Indian states, including Gujarat and Nagaland already have alcohol bans, though these tend to be poorly enforced.

The ban will be Bihar's second experiment with prohibition, after a failed attempt from 1977-79 which saw a proliferation of smuggling from neighbouring states.

However, Mr Kumar dismissed concerns that the ban could be flouted or lead to another rise in bootlegging and smuggling activity. "I know people will say that even after banning liquor it will be sold illegally.

"If it happens then we will deal with that strongly," he said, without providing further details.

Residents of Bihar, on average, consume around a half pint of local spirits, also known as "toddy", every week, according to India's National Sample Survey Office - one of the highest levels in the country.

Beer, wine and foreign spirits are expensive and rarely consumed.

Mr Kumar did not specify whether the ban would be limited to the typically potent, home-grown "country liquor", or all alcoholic beverages. The chief minister first promised to make Bihar a dry state if re-elected while speaking at a Department for International Development-funded event on the role of women in health, nutrition and sanitation in July.

When asked by a member of the mainly female audience what he would do to restrict the sale of alcohol in the state, Mr Kumar surprised his supporters by saying: "Your suggestion is very good. Next time when I would come to power, I would ban it."

The pledge was widely seen as a move to win support among women, particularly among the Dalit (untouchable) and other "backward" castes, who have been most affected by rising alcohol consumption and its detrimental impact on families in the mainly conservative, rural state.

However, many analysts did not expect Mr Kumar to implement the reform given the massive budget shortfall it would cause in one of India's poorest regions from the loss of alcohol excise tax.

The state earned 36.5?billion rupees (pounds 365?million) in excise revenue in 2014-15 - around 15 per cent of its total tax intake.

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