Nitish Kumar and the liquor ban in Bihar

Going back into the days of my childhood, I could recollect a painful incident which has clearly been etched in my memory for its sheer brutality.


It was a cold winter evening in a Bhagalpur village. Dusk had fallen. As I was riding my bicycle down the visibly empty road, with the chill gushing through the veins, my gaze turned across the pavement: a bare-chested man, who could barely stand steady, was shouting ill words at a woman. Unperturbed, the woman persisted him to come home. This enraged the man even further; moving forward, he held her hand and began slapping her. The woman pleaded for mercy, but her despair fell on deaf ears.


Watching this incident from afar, I was terrified. My heart cried. For a moment, I even thought of intervening, but my cowardly self-got the better of me and I paddled along. But my brain was stuck to that very incident. It could process nothing but show me visuals of that helpless wife, who didn’t abandon her drunk husband despite his gruesome attacks. “So much for ‘pativrata’, I thought.


On November 26, 2015, people welcomed Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s poll promise that he would ensure an effective implementation of the liquor ban in the state by April 1, 2016. Skeptics, especially of the Opposition camp, wondered if the JD(U) leader — acclaimed for doubling the state’s per capita income in the last 10 years — would be able to stand abreast with his promise since the state would face a loss of about Rs. 4,000 cr in 2015-16, which would otherwise have been stored in the treasury as excise duty on liquor sale.

Cometh the April 1, and the Chief Minister is right on business. Not making a fool of people, he promulgated a partial prohibition of liquor in Bihar — banned sale and consumption of country and spiced liquor in rural areas. Not only did he stood by his promise, but also with the women, who trusted him against the domestic violence. "Women are suffering more than anyone else due to increasing liquor consumption," Kumar had mentioned.


“Can you imagine that people are calling us to give locations of storage of liquor? This is an unthinkable reaction. An atmosphere has been built around liquor ban,” Nitish had said on Monday, Indian Express reported.


The very next day, the JD(U)-RJD led government took everyone by surprise. The decision to ban sale and consumption of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) in municipal and town council areas with immediate effect was taken at a Cabinet meeting, the Chief Minister told reporters on Tuesday.


He added that no license would be provided to any hotel and bar to serve alcohol. However, the  Army canteens have not been included in the prohibition.


From the top of the table, the prohibition on liquor sale and consumption looks all idealistic; however, there are two issues that have to be addressed for this beautiful prohibition to continue in the longer run.


1. Beware the finance!

Several proven studies suggest that a complete liquor ban isn’t good for the financial health of a state. In 2014-15, the Bihar government collected a revenue of Rs. 3,700 crore as excise tax from the sale of liquor in the state; a target of Rs. 4,000 crore was set for the year 2015-16. While one might claim that it is the government’s job to listen to the voices of larger public and act accordingly; there is no denying that the shortage of revenue might prove to be a hindrance in other developmental works.


2. Stop Smuggling, possible?

Following the footsteps of Gujarat, Nagaland, and Mizoram, the Bihar government has ordered a complete ban on alcohol. However, the resistance from the liquor mafias can’t be ignored completely. Even the state of Gujarat, where the prohibition has been in force for over 50 years, isn’t completely a ‘dry state’. Black marketing and ‘across the border smuggling’ is rampant in the state.


However, Nitish notes that there has been a staggering response to this campaign. "We had asked the school children to get an oath letter signed from their parents that they would not consume liquor and would ask others to follow the same and astonishingly we got we got one crore 17 lakh oath letters till March 31," he said.


Undoubtedly, this move by the Nitish-led government is appreciable. But the show shouldn’t stop because of some financial crunches. Yes, with GST coming into effect, Bihar will generate a good amount of revenue. Until then, the noble cause has to be continued with same vigor.


By: Mayank Mohanti