PROHIBITION NEEDS REVIEW
Prohibition is an act of the banning of the manufacture, storage, transportation, sale, possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages (except for medicinal and religious uses). This is imposed to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems and to improve health and hygiene. Some kind of limitation on the trade of alcohol can be seen in the code of Hammurabi (Babylonian legal text) specifically banning the sale of beer for money.
The concern over the excessive drinking began during the American colonial era. The evangelical Protestants denounced drinking as sinful and demanded the ban on the sale of liquor. The American temperance society encouraged voluntary abstinence from alcohol and encouraged many successor organizations which advocated mandatory prohibition. Many religious sects and denominations especially Methodists became active in the temperance movement. Women also participated. Temperance activists were seeking to ameliorate the negative social effects of rapid industrialization. On the popular demand of the people, prohibition was implemented in America by President Woodrow Wilson after amending the Constitution in 1920. But it was not a success and President Franklin Roosevelt repealed the prohibition in 1933 by again amending the constitution. There was prohibition in Canada from 1918 to 1920 and in the Soviet Union from 1914 to 1925. Many other countries also banned alcohol consumption and repealed it after some time, as it was not successful. However, the sale and consumption of alcohol has never been prohibited by law in UK.
In Islam, drinking of alcohol is considered haram or forbidden. Some Islamic scholars and Muslim religious authorities call intoxicants “the work of Satan.” While the prohibition on alcohol is believed to be widely heeded, not all Muslims abstain from drinking. Alcohol is available in many Islamic nations through regulations. Some countries like Saudi Arabia outlaw alcohol altogether, while places like Dubai have a relaxed approach.
In India, Mahatma Gandhi was the champion of the temperance movement. It was an integral part of his vision for Independent India. A life time teetotaller, Gandhiji helped make priority of the Indian National Congress, which ultimately resulted in the goal of prohibition written into the constitution. He once said “the one thing most deplorable next to untouchability is the drink curse.” The article 47 of the constitution says “the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purpose of intoxicating drinks and of drugs that are injurious to health.” However, it is non-justiciable and ‘liquor’ being a state subject, it is the state govt. permitting the sale of liquor or imposing ban on it. Therefore, the liquor ban has become debatable issue that needs to be discussed. Whether to consider its sale unethical or our Constitution actually permits it. And if some states have imposed a liquor ban, why not the remaining states? What will be the financial losses to the state govts.
In India, the consumption of liquor is banned in the states of Gujarat, Bihar, Mizoram and Nagaland. Gujarat has implemented prohibition since its formation in 1960. It is the only state with the death penalty for producing and selling homemade liquor, ultimately leading to fatality. There is provision of permit for non-Gujaratis, also health permit is issued on the recommendation of a doctor endorsed by the CMO, to purchase liquor from govt. approved shops. But the reality is different, the bootleggers in the state ensure timely delivery of booze. Liquor flows from the neighbouring states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Daman & Diu (UT). This invites corruption money to be utilized in bribing the road transport, excise, police and the govt. officials. The state loses nearly Rs 10,000 crore annually because of prohibition. During weekends and other holidays, the people move to the nearby places like Daman, Diu, Udaipur, Mount Abu etc. mainly to drink and enjoy. Which ultimately results in loss of revenue to the state govt. The state’s failure in combating alcohol consumption despite the prohibition and strict laws is not hidden from anyone.
Bihar imposed complete prohibition in the state in 2016, drawing its inspiration from Article 47 of the Constitution. This was also the election promise of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to the women of the state. The prohibition laws were made draconian, like holding entire family liable to imprisonment, if any family member violated the liquor ban. Such harsh laws failed to deter alcohol consumption in the state. Bihar shares its border with Nepal, West Bengal, Jharkhand and U.P. None of these states practise prohibition and the liquor is flowing into Bihar from there states. There is phenomenal rise in the excise revenue of WB and JK. Bihar on the other hand is losing the revenue. For 2015-16, state excise revenue was estimated at INR 4000 crores. In last seven years, the state has lost around INR 40000 crores. And is running short of funds to fill the existing vacancies in the govt. departments.
The former CJI berated Bihar’s prohibition and called it “lack of foresight” in drafting legislation. His annoyance was mainly because of overburdening of state’s judicial administration, with lakhs of prohibition cases and bail applications clogging Patna High Court and lower courts.
Mizoram and Nagaland are two more dry states in India facing by and large the same challenges.
In the past, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana lifted the ban on alcohol due to financial impacts. India is a developing country and we can not have any policy which reduces the revenue of the govt. and promotes corruption. We also can not ignore the fact it has not been successful anywhere in the world. Instead of banning alcohol, we need to spread the awareness about its ill effects.
State govts. defend the ban by citing wellbeing of the poor who get adversely affected by the menace of drinking and indulge in crime and domestic violence. Banning alcohol is seen as a vote-getter policy in our country. It is often said that the govts. mostly implement the prohibition to reduce crime, prevent road accidents and improve the health of the people. The intention can never be doubted but implementation has never been successful.
One of the axioms of the governance is that any policy with political, social, economical or other values ought to be first examined in the scale of implementability. What is not implementable may not be operationalized despite the nobility of the cause.
By Manoj Dubey
Delhi Public Schools
Comments are closed here.