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Bihar liquor ban: The flip side of the coin
The reasons for ban on liquor in Bihar lay deep within political as well as in social causes. Analysing the data from surveys conducted by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, it can be concluded that in Mr Nitish Kumar's political base, women comprise of a considerably large share of the population. And it were the women that were at the forefront of campaigns against liquor shops in the state with Pragatisheel Mahila Sangh leading the campaign.

Husbands would get drunk and then abuse their wives, so it was natural for women to demand for a ban on liquor. The agitation by Pragatisheel Mahila Sangh reached Nitish Kumar and sensing a political opportunity, he made a pre-poll promise to ban liquor in the state. Elections and alcohol have had a long love story.

Nitish Kumar came to power, and within months banned liquor in his state, and up came the criticism. It's easy to criticise and suggest better alternatives. But what we fail to realise is that these alternatives are generally suggested by people who have analysed the problems on their computer screens and are poles apart from the main execution of any plan in a state as vast as Bihar, with a long history of law & order problems.

Starting from Virginia Colonial Assembly in 1629 with recent bans in our country, alcohol bans have a long history. In India, governments have often made liquor bans as the poll promise, and ridden on the waves of votes that such promises brought along, came to power, imposed the ban, and quietly withdrew them later after the treasuries started running dry; states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu being good examples. This is due to the fact that liquor continues to be a heavily taxed item.

But this should not discourage any government from imposing ban on liquor, if the public that is voting for them demands so. As soon as Nitish Kumar imposed this ban, the PR agencies of liquor companies lashed out about how it is the local breweries that are the reason behind the deaths and abuse and not them. And how smuggling still continues to happen rendering this ban ineffective.

Google out liquor ban in Bihar and up comes the news how more than a thousand people have died due to the inferior quality liquor in the last decade. 'More than a thousand people in the last decade'!!

Now, compare this with the data from World Health Organisation, that puts deaths due to alcohol in India at more than 3 million per year. Yes, this includes deaths caused by local breweries as well but putting the entire blame on them seems to be completely illogical.

Such powerful is the PR machinery of liquor companies that put in Google keywords such as 'Liquor, Ban and Bihar', and all links you get are about criticism, failure, economics and loss of money.

The state of Bihar is trying to make the ban stronger with stringent penal provisions that have been picked up from the laws of several states. It has provisions such as death penalty in case of a hooch tragedy. Similarly if the liquor renders the person handicapped, the offender could get a jail term ranging between 10 years to life imprisonment. Punishment for illegally trading, transporting, selling or serving alcohol is a jail term of 7-10 years and fine up to Rs 10 lakh. 5 – 10 year jail term with a fine of Rs. 10 lakh has been specified for drinking in public places. Compensation provisions have been put in place such as a compensation of Rs 4 lakh in case of death due to consumption of spurious liquor and financial help of Rs 20,000 for the treatment of medical complications.

Given the fact that this policy has failed in a number of states in the recent past, is no proof that this policy can never succeed. What is needed is to strengthen the infrastructure & apparatus in place to make the ban practically possible.

Recent reports have suggested that ban on liquor in Bihar has led to increased sales in the neighboring states. But it's anybody's guess that state borders are not as rigid as the country's borders and such smuggling is bound to happen until the policing at borders is made stronger. The problem is not with the ban but with the state machinery and administration which has to be made stronger to enforce the ban.

Another reason to support this ban is that the demand for the ban came from the voters in the state and the criticism is coming from people sitting in their comfortable chairs in front of their computer screens. Let this time a chief minister listen to the demands of the people of his state and not the rhetoric of a tiny but powerful share of population active on social media.

This might just be the first step towards a long journey but criticizing a policy just because it does not fit into economics, does no good. After all, economics can't define everything.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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