Any policy imposing a ban acts as a carpet bombing at first but then the devastating effects emerge which lead to an ultimate failure of the policy. Alcohol, drugs and other intoxicating substances being a menace need to be tackled with precision and a decisive decision in such matters need to be taken.
Imposing a complete prohibition on liquor in many states has not proved to be as successful as it was supposed to be. The reasons behind introducing such prohibition may include political tactics, agitation by the people, motivation from other states, a strategic plan for curbing the growing crime rates, etc. But the blunt truth which lay bare in front of us is that such policies have miserably failed in Indian states.
Inspired by the Article 47 of the Indian Constitution which says that , “The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health”, many states had or have introduced ban on intoxicating drinks. But inspecting the results of each and every policy ultimately shows that one hand it is beneficial but the disadvantages weigh heavier in the present scenario.
Taking up the case of Bihar where the imposition of the ban has received more criticism than appreciation, the prohibition policy prima facie appears to be astringent yet strong measure. The anger spread like wildfire through Konar, a village near Sasaram town of Bihar’s Rohtas district, on 2 March 2013 when around sixty women protested against alcoholism in the village, resulting in grievances mainly including domestic violence. They locked the village’s wine shops, destroyed liquor bottles and beat up the men who tried to attack them. The protests spread all over the state. The state government then introduced a complete ban on the manufacture, sale, transport, and consumption of alcohol by enacting the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act and the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, in April and October 2016, respectively.
The Gujarat prohibition act, 1949 imposed a ban on manufacture, import, export, sale or purchase of liquor, intoxicating drugs, opium, toddy, etc. But the grim truth that dawns upon all of us is that alcohol is available in abundance, in spite of prohibition which has been in force across Gujarat since May 1960. In as much as the law proscribes the manufacture, storage, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages, the legislation is violated in its letter and spirit. After paying heed to the lags in the implementation of the law, an amendment in March 2017 encouraged people to rat on those who attempt to purchase or actually buy liquor from bootleggers. The state government encouraged citizens to directly inform the authorities about liquor-related illegal activity by dialing a toll-free number.
A Public Interest Litigation was filed in the Supreme Court in 2016 seeking a nationwide ban on liquor and other intoxicating drinks and by a Delhi based lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay. The Supreme Court had earlier upheld legislations to check alcohol consumption and said that it cannot be challenged for contravention of Art 19(1)(g) of the constitution, for fundamental rights should be read in conjunction with the DPSPs. The Supreme Court refused to entertain the plea saying “these were policy matters in which a court could not interfere”.
The State Of Tamil Nadu vs K. Balu &Anr was one such case where guidelines for a partial ban on liquor were issued. The Supreme Court held that there was no justification to allow liquor shops on state highways and national highways after focusing on the fact that drunken driving is one of the main causes of road accidents in India. Hence, directions were issued for prohibiting the grant of licenses for the sale of liquor along the highways and over a distance of 500 meters from the outer edge of the highway or a service lane alongside. Also, the distance was reduced to 220 meters in the case of a municipality with a population of fewer than 20,000 people.
In Vincent Panikurlangara v. Union of India, AIR 1987 SC 990 the Court stated that “maintenance and improvement of public health have to rank high as these are indispensable to the very physical existence of the community and on the betterment of these depends, the building of the society of which the Constitution makers envisaged. Attending to public health, in our opinion, therefore is of high priority perhaps the one at the top”.
Article 19 (1) (g) guarantees all the citizens the fundamental right to practice any profession or carry on any occupation, trade or business subject to restrictions imposed in the interest of general public under clause (6) of Article 19. In Municipal Corporation v. Jan Mohammed, AIR 1986 SC 1205 the Court held that the expression ‘in the interest of the general public’ in clause (6) of Article 19 clearly means public order, public health, and public security. Further, In Burrabazar Fire Works Dealers Association and Others v. Commissioner of Police, Calcutta, AIR 1998 Cal. 121 it was held that Article 19 (1) (g) does not guarantee the freedom which takes away that communities’ safety, health, and peace.
State governments need to deeply analyze the outcomes of the prohibition of alcohol, especially because it is a significant loss to the interlinked industries, and is a complete wasteful exercise if the ban is repealed later.
Problems Faced by States who prohibited Liquor are discussed below
- Supply of Illicit Liquor increases which leads to more deaths – Complete prohibition lead to the supply and manufacture of homemade liquor which is mixed with pesticides or chemicals to increase the power. Thus it becomes more harmful than standard alcohol/ liquor. It increases the death rate thus the main objective of prohibiting liquor is defeated.
- Loss of Revenues to State –The sale of alcohol contributes to the economy of the state through the tax directly and through the tourism, indirectly. The State Excise in India is mainly imposed on the sale of liquor, which is commonly known as Liquor tax. In the case of Bihar, where prohibition was enforced in 2016, neighboring West Bengal, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh saw a sharp rise in excise revenue, suggesting that liquor from these states was being smuggled into Bihar. The Loss of Bihar would mean Nepal’s gain, as people may easily drop out of the state to Nepal, have their full, and come back. Thus making the law as ineffective. A year since the liquor ban, Bihar’s revenue collection has declined by Rs 1,738 crore. The excise revenue has plummeted from Rs 3,141 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 29 crore in 2016-17. From the figure, it can be seen that the excise revenue of other states has increased, which means the residents of Bihar migrated to neighboring states in order to fulfill they’re a demand for Liuor.
- Crime Rate pre and post – The data from Bihar police accounts for crime all across Bihar state, not just parts of it. The data shows that there is a decline in rates of crime since the implementation of the Bihar Excise Act in 2016. But these are only those which are in the records, what about those which have not been recorded? From this, it can be concluded that the losses are more than the benefits of Prohibiting Alcohol and Liquor. Most of the people in the dry states are convicted for breaking the liquor ban law. These people usually fall under the age of 18 – 25 years old. In Gujarat, around 86 – 90% of males were convicted for breaking the liquor ban laws. Every year, around 61 to 68% of people held responsible for breaking the liquor ban law were the people of Gujarat.
- Unemployment – The ban on alcohol has generated the problem of unemployment among the local people. For instance in Gujarat Tourists will not gather unless there is a flow of alcohol on the beachside resorts or shops. The decline in tourism has also left the local people unemployed. Apart from alcohol shops, other small restaurants or beach huts can be developed which can employ the local people. But it is noted that no investor wants to invest in developing a beach unless the prohibition has been lifted.
- 5) The decline in Tourism – The ban on alcohol has a great impact on the number of foreigners visiting the country. During the year 2010 – 2011, around 27% of foreigners visited Gujarat but it declined drastically by 5% in the year of 2011 – 2012. The tourism sector of Kerala is also largely affected by the ban on alcohol. A lot of corporate conferences which were planned to be organized in the state may be shifted to somewhere else.
- Criminal Organizations – There is no debate about the rise in the parallel business of illegally sold liquor. The nexus between bootleggers, buyers, and police have created an illegal liquor market that is lucrative and growing, promoting other illegal activities. And that will organize criminal organizations even more.
Every policy of the government can be seen both as a boon and a bane. The government always makes strenuous efforts to maintain the good health of its citizens. Prohibition on alcohol is a measure which appears to be a confident step towards a healthy state. But the reality shows a completely different result, making it even more difficult to curb the menace arising after the prohibition. The government should always ensure that the prescribed norms are followed by all the liquor companies. But preventing the sale of liquor is not a suitable option in the current scenario where addiction rates are high, people crave for alcohol, weddings give a huge business to the industry, sale of alcohol contributes majorly to tax revenue and last but not the least in a country of more than 100 crore people, keeping a watch on the black market is nearly impossible.
Hence, it is concluded that steps should be taken to reduce the consumption of Liquor and other Intoxicating drugs but the Total Prohibition cannot be a practical solution.
Sybiosis Law School, NOIDA
Sybiosis Law School, NOIDA