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Ban on Alcohol In India

Context:

The official death toll from the latest hooch tragedy in “dry” Bihar has mounted to 38. Critics have claimed that one of the reasons behind the tragedy is the state’s prohibition policy, with an official ban on alcohol leading to a thriving underground economy where such spurious alcohol is produced and sold.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. How the Indian constitution views alcohol?
  2. Why do all states not have prohibition?
  3. What are some of the places which currently have prohibition?
  4. Does prohibition work?

How the Indian constitution views alcohol?

  • One of the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) mentions that “in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”
  • While DPSPs are not in themselves legally enforceable, they set goals that the state should aspire towards to establish conditions under which citizens can lead a good life.
  • Thus, alcohol is seen by the Constitution and by extension, the Indian state, as an undesirable evil that needs to be regulated.
Alcohol is a state subject
  • According to the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, alcohol is a state subject, i.e. state legislatures have the right and responsibility to draft laws regarding it, including “the production, manufacture, possession, transport, purchase and sale of intoxicating liquors.”
  • Thus, laws regarding alcohol differ from state to state, falling in the whole spectrum between prohibition and private sale.
  • Gandhi wrote, “Alcohol makes a man forget himself and while its effects last, he becomes utterly incapable of doing anything useful. Those who take to drinking, ruin themselves and ruin their people.”

Why do all states not have prohibition?

  • While the Constitution sets prohibition on alcohol as a goal, for most states, it is very difficult to declare a ban on alcohol.
  • This is primarily because liquor revenues are not easy to ignore and have consistently contributed a large share of state governments’ revenue.
    • For instance, in Maharashtra, state liquor revenues amounted to Rs 11,000 crore in April 2020 (during the nationwide Covid lockdown), compared with Rs 17,000 crore in March.

What are some of the places which currently have prohibition?

  • All states have some regulations with regards to alcohol consumption and sale (like age requirements or dry days).
  • Currently, there are five states with total prohibition and some more with partial prohibition.
Bihar
  • Both the sale and prohibition of liquor was completely banned by the government back in 2016, in keeping with a promise made to the women of Bihar by the chief minister ahead of the Assembly polls held the previous year.
Gujarat
  • Gujarat has had prohibition since it came into existence as a state in 1960. In the 62 years since prohibition has been around in Gujarat, the Act has seen several amendments.
  • Notably, in 2009, then chief minister Narendra Modi introduced the death penalty for sellers/producers if their spurious alcohol caused deaths.
  •  However, Gujarat has provisions for special alcohol licences for hospitality establishments as well as individuals.
Lakshadweep
  • The Union Territory bans both the consumption and sale of alcohol keeping in mind the culture and sentiments of its predominantly Muslim population.
  •  However, the island of Bangram has a resort with a bar which is allowed to legally serve liquor.
Mizoram
  • In 2019, Mizoram became a “dry state” once again after the new government reintroduced prohibition that was repealed in 2015. Previously, Mizoram had seen prohibition for 18 years.
  • Only military personnel and those with “medical needs” are allowed to consume alcohol.
Nagaland
  • Nagaland introduced total prohibition in 1989 due to “moral and social” reasons, for the greater good of its citizens.
  • However, in recent times, the Naga government has mulled partially lifting prohibition due to various reasons.

Does prohibition work?

Concerns:
  • There is evidence to show that by and large, prohibition creates opportunities for a thriving underground economy that distributes liquor, outside the regulatory framework of the state.
  • This creates its own problems, from strengthening organised crime groups (or mafias) to the distribution of spurious liquor.
  • While the government made liquor more inaccessible, it is impossible to take it out of circulation completely.
  • Furthermore, prohibition disproportionately affects poorer sections of society with upper classes still being able to procure expensive (and safe) alcohol.
Benefits:
  • Various studies have provided evidence linking alcohol with domestic abuse or domestic violence.
  • In India, prohibition has often been framed as a “women’s rights” issue.
  • A report by the Sexual Violence Research Initiative says that after prohibition was introduced in 2016, “crimes against women have clearly declined both in terms of rate (registered cases per 100,000 female population) and incidence (absolute numbers).”
  • While other factors may also be involved, other studies have shown marginal improvement in certain kinds of crime after prohibition.

-Source: Indian Express


February 2023
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