The much-publicized liquor ban policy of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has created a serious financial crisis in Bihar as the administration is finding it difficult to implement the recommendations of the pay commission as the centre has also cut its share in the schemes that it funds. The crime rate has registered a rise, illicit liquor trade is flourishing providing liquor to all, who asked for it.
“Our expenditure is going up as. We have to implement the recommendations of the pay commission and the central government has cut its share in the centrally-sponsored schemes. The other electoral promises of providing roads, electricity and water to all and unemployment allowances also require huge investment,” said a senior official of state revenue department.
Whereas the alcohol ban has brought and relief to the women in the state, it has at the same time created some new problems like increase in the crime rate. The free flow of liquor has created a new business class deals which in distributing liquor obtained from neighbouring states, in Bihar at a much higher rate. The local police that have been given draconian powers to curb drinking deliberately ignores the widespread network of illicit liquor traders as it has hand in glove with them. The excise collections of all states adjoining Bihar has registered a increase thus effecting finances of Bihar badly. The police has reported a rise of 13 percent in the crime in the post liquor ban period.
However, the supporters of prohibition led by none other than the chief minister Kumar have been defending the ban arguing that it has brought down road accidents in which a large number of people were killed as most of the cases of accidents deaths were linked with the consumption of liquor. The fact remains that the state police does not have adequate infrastructure to check this menace in parts other than the capital Patna. The chief minister Nitish Kumar during a media interaction denied that liquor ban had adversely hit the flow of revenues in the state.
“It is wrong to say that revenues of the state have declined as excise duty collection suffered losses. The state used to get Rs. 5,000 crore through VAT and excise on liquor. The revenues generated in financial year 2016-17 was almost the same as it was in the previous year,” the chief minister said.
After assuming power for the third time in Bihar Nitish Kumar immediately took a decision to put a ban on procurement, sale and distribution of liquor in the state from April 1, 2016. The state government said the decision was taken after the chief minister received a large number of complaints from women during the campaign demanding a ban on the sale of any kind of liquor as their male members were resorting to drinking and creating ruckus and also effecting the education of children.
Bihar is the third Indian state that has come under prohibition after Gujarat and Nagaland.
A close associate of Kumar shared an incident which led Kumar to declare prohibition. During an interaction with members of a self-help group in Patna the women complained of widespread addiction of liquor in rural areas and demanded a total ban on alcohol. Kumar promised them he would impose a ban on liquor once he returns to power. He fulfilled the promise that made him popular among women who from then on has become one of his trusted supporters.
When Nitish Kumar was made the chief minister for the third time despite his party Janata Dal (United) being a junior partner. He knew from the day one that it would not be possible for him to check the influence and demand of his senior partner Lalu Yadav for a long time as Lalu has huge following among Muslims and Yadavs that along with most backward class had brought the Nitish-led rag-tag coalition to power in Bihar. Nitish desperately wanted to create a separate vote bank for him and liquor ban awarded him that in the shape of women who are now supporting him cutting across caste and religious lines. On earlier occasion also he earned the support of women when he struck a chord with them through empowerment schemes like free cycles for girls and 50 percent reservations for women in the police and local bodies. “Prohibition is our master-stroke, now they (women) will love him,” said a senior JD (U) leader.
He said it doesn’t matter whether prohibition fails or not. It is matter of perception. Women want the government to shut down liquor shops in their neighbourhood and the government had done it.
Many Indian states experimented with the idea of prohibition, but met with only partial success. The states, which experimented in the past ultimately repealed it after finding it almost impossible to make up the huge revenue loss that they suffered during the ban period. The northestern state of Mizoram was the only Indian state where prohibition lasted for 17 years. The state government had recently lifted the ban on liquor. The state of Nagaland that comes under the prohibition is also contemplating to remove the ban as rampant illegal sale of liquor has been creating losses to the revenues of the state.
Even after imposing a blanket ban on all type of alcohol, Nitish government in Bihar has been facing challenges in its implementation as it requires cooperation from adjoining states of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal. These states have not yet shown any interest in cooperating with the Bihar government as prohibition has upped their improved manifolds. Bihar also share international boundary with Himalayan state of Nepal and the border is porous and almost open. This is also the major route for smugglers of illicit liquor in the state. In the case of Nepal, the central government at the request of Bihar will have take up the matter with the government of Nepal, which seems not an easy task. As Bihar is passing through a period of alcohol ban, tipplers staying near the international border now troop into Nepal and come back after consuming it the result is a loss Bihar and gain for Nepal.
The various studies dealing with the problem of alcoholism and prohibition in many parts of the world have suggested that a total ban on liquor often leads to producing and consuming of spurious liquor that is not fit for the consumption of human beings as it is nothing but poison and result in death. The ban on liquor could only be imposed after a proper consultations and technological knowledge sought from health experts. It is not clear whether Nitish government had gone through this process before putting a ban on liquor in Bihar.>