PROHIBITION IN GUJARAT AND BIHAR: LESSONS FOR OTHER STATES – BY ADARSH KUMAR

  • Introduction:  With the landmark legislation of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, Bihar banned the sale and consumption of alcohol within the state. Gujrat did so just after the independence through the instrument of Gujrat Prohibition Act, 1949 which was effectively implemented after the state achieved the statehood in 1960. Both of these legislations had one common premise: the sermons of Mahatma Gandhi against evils of alcohol. This love-hate relationship with alcohol is very deeply rooted in our history.
  • Background: From the Rigveda’s hymns praising the mysterious “Somarasa” to the current legislations vilifying it, this enticing substance has its own history. Mahatma Gandhi treated alcohol as a mean to many social evils of our society. He presented a strong argument of man-hour lost due to the consumption of alcohol. He wished after the attainment of Swaraj, Swaragya will take care of the menace of alcoholism. Our constitution under the Directive principle enshrined the idea of alcohol-free society. Many states followed the suit including Gujrat, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Bihar, along with the union territory of Lakshadweep.
  • Current State of Affairs: Our country is witnessing many court cases against the alcohol ban. The most notable among which, is the current case pending in the Gujrat High Court. Members of civil society have filed a case challenging the alcohol ban with the arguments that it limits the right to privacy guaranteed under the constitution and also challenged the authoritarian-parental nature of state to force its citizens to choose food and beverages that they deem fit.
  • Thesis and Anti-Thesis:
  • Wellbeing of its citizens: Alcohol is a well-known stimulant that changes the homeostasis of our body. Under the influence of alcohol, human loses the power to think, rationalize, and act as per the situation & environmental stimulus. Long-term effects can be liver damage, reduced immunity, & reduced mental capabilities. At best, an alcoholic is just a burden on the family, or the society, at worst, they harm the functioning of these social institutions. Alcohol is behind various cases of domestic abuse, road accidents, crime, etc. Hence, as a custodian of our society, government should ban alcohol.
                       But, this argument appears very weak as banning alcohol would not serve any purpose if, it is not substantiated with the concrete efforts taken to change the developmental parameters of our society, by the state. People need to be educated on drug abuse and should be made aware of the various consequences of it. Alcohol is one among the various drugs sold legally in the market. Some of the psychoactive substances sold in the market are much cheaper than alcohol. If government bans alcohol, people shift to these substances which is not only dangerous in short period of time, but toxic too. This phenomenon is witnessed in the case of Bihar. Laymen of Bihar, instead of using alcohol after the ban, as it was very costly in the black market, started using adhesive products and cough syrup such as Corex, which corrode lungs and liver much faster than alcohol.
  • Crime Against Women: The major argument forwarded for the support of the ban is that alcohol consumption is related to crimes against women in our society. Crimes such as domestic violence, dowry deaths, sexual harassments, violence, murder, rape, acid attacks, etc. are more often than not attributed to the consumption of alcohol by the accused. Media reports, police statements, and civil society held alcohol responsible for these crimes.
                   This is a false argument. Drugs at best can aggravate the already present situation, it is patriarchal and conservative mindset of our society that should be held responsible for the crime against women. Longitudinal comparative studies of National Crime Report Bureau (NCRB) reports in the case of Bihar suggest that crime against women has significantly reduced in Bihar after the ban. But it is certainly not the complete picture. If you take National Family Health Survey 2019 data, more than 40% of the Bihari Women reported domestic abuse, which not at all suggest the usefulness of NCRB data in the favor of ban. Also, NCRB prepares report on the basis of cases reported in police stations across the state, but there are huge number of cases which are unreported due to various societal factors.
  • To reduce the deaths related to alcohol consumptions: Deaths due to drink and drive is on rise in our country, according to the NCRB report 2019. Deaths due to liver cirrhosis is increasing year after year. According to an estimate, every 96 minutes a person loses his/her life due to alcohol. Deaths due to consumption of boot led alcohol is rampant throughout the country. Hence, to address these problems, blanket ban on alcohol is necessary.
                      This argument holds some tinge of reality but it is still not strong enough to hold the ground.If you take a look at the data, you will find alcohol ban has not translated into any fruitful results. In 2021 alone, total 947 people died after consuming boot-led alcohol. Gujrat, where alcohol is banned, came at the third spot with more than 130 deaths, in the year 2013. Karnataka, where alcohol is not banned, topped the chart that year. Every year, people from both such types of states die after consuming illicit liquor. Hence, it can be successfully concluded that banning alcohol itself won’t help. People will consume anything that is cheaper even if it is illegal.
     
    • Productivity Lost: The consumption of alcohol can lead to a loss of productivity. Under the influence of alcohol, people are not in the state to work effectively and efficiently. A chronic alcoholic is not only burden on the organization, but also create embarrassment for the organization. There are many press reports about government servants and officials behaving indecently in the public under its influence. Hence, the government will not only be saving lost man-hours, but they will also save themselves from such embarrassments.
                   Again, indiscipline and irresponsibility are the main causes. Alcohol or any drug is an aggravator of an underlying issue. Banning alcohol will solve the problem for a while, but not in the long run.
  • Against the ideals of our country: Mahatma Gandhi was against the use of alcohol other than medical purposes. Our constitution makers also wished the same, that’s why they put this subject in the very core of the constitution. Hence, alcohol should be banned as it is against the ideals of our country.
                   A country should hold its ideals, but these ideals should not restrict the freedom of its citizens to choose what to drink.The citizenry should have the right to choose, and the state has the responsibility to educate its citizenry about the misuse and consequences of alcohol consumptions. The state should let the people decide what they want to do with their lives.
  • Conclusion: Lesson for other states
                  
    Drugs in general acts as a stimulant for many social evils, but these evils are already present in our society. So, the pragmatic and logical step would be, to address the root causes of these evils i.e., patriarchy, illiteracy, backwardness of the society, etc. Any quick fix other than addressing these issues can be a hogwash for a few days but, it will fail in the long run.

                         Also, the government should avoid acting as a parental organization for the masses as much as possible. Alcohol is used by people recreationally also. It increases social cohesion as well. Why not just let them enjoy?

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