The story so far: On November 26, at a function to mark Nashamukti Diwas or ‘de-addiction day’, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced that there would be a fresh “house-to-house” survey to assess the impact of liquor prohibition in Bihar. The survey is likely to begin from mid-December.
When did the State ban liquor?
To curb alcoholism, the Bihar government amended the Bihar Excise Act, 1915 and promulgated the Bihar Prohibition and Excise (Amendment) Act, 2016 from April 5, 2016, introducing total prohibition in the State. On October 2, 2016 it promised to “enforce, implement and promote complete prohibition of liquor and intoxicants in the territory of the State of Bihar and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”. However, since then, the Act has been amended several times.
Has the ban served its purpose?
Months after the Bihar Prohibition and Excise (Amendment)Act, 2016 was enforced, as many as 19 people died in August, 2016 at the Khajurbanni locality of Gopalganj district after consuming illicit liquor. Over 250 people have died since 2016 after consuming illegal liquor, but the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says the toll is higher and could be over 1,000. Despite complete prohibition, illegal liquor bottles are known to have been funnelled into the State through States such as Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal and sometimes, even after crossing the porous border of the neighbouring country of Nepal. Innovative ways are used including ambulances, hearses, gas cylinders, under vegetable sacks in pick-up vans and trucks and in pantry car coaches of trains. In courts, there is a huge pile-up of prohibition-related cases across the State. In December 2021, the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice N.V. Ramana, expressed concern over the (prohibition) law saying it was enforced with “lack of foresight” which has led to the “clogging of courts in the State”.
How many households will the survey cover?
A form, in Hindi and English, will be circulated, seeking feedback from the people on whether they support the liquor ban, their family’s economic condition, social strata, and whether their quality of life has improved because of prohibition, an official said. Krishna Paswan, joint commissioner of the State Prohibition, Excise and Registration Department, said, “talks are being held to finalise the modalities of the survey.” The survey will cover a minimum of 2,500 households in all 38 districts and will be completed in 12 weeks. The data of the survey will be collected on a day-to-day basis digitally. The department has already invited tenders from the institutions willing to conduct the survey, said the official.
How does the government assess the ban?
The Chief Minister has dismissed criticism, especially from the BJP, that prohibition has been a “total failure” in the State, given the number of hooch tragedies, cases of illegal liquor being seized and arrest of people allegedly involved in the illegal liquor trade. While asserting that the liquor ban would stay in the State as long as he is in power, Mr. Kumar said, “We have to plug the loopholes and make the implementation of prohibition more effective and strict.”
Have there been surveys on the ban earlier?
There have been two surveys on the impact of the liquor ban in the State — in August 2018 and February 2023, initiated by the State government. The first survey, conducted by Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) said there has been a positive impact after prohibition on people of the State as 1.64 crore have quit drinking, and spent the money saved to buy milk, vegetables and clothes. The second survey was conducted by the Chanakya Law University in association with the Bihar Rural Livelihood Project (Jeevika) which had covered 33,000-odd villages in 534 blocks across all 38 districts of the State covering over 10 lakh people. The survey had revealed that 1.82 crore have quit drinking but 4.39% admitted that they were still consuming liquor. “99% women and 92% men of the State are in favour of the prohibition,” the survey showed — figures which have been often quoted by Mr. Kumar. “Prohibition has also helped in the economic uplift of families, especially from poor classes among whom alcoholism has reduced drastically,” Mr. Kumar has often said.
What is the reason to conduct a fresh survey?
According to officials, despite the fact that the prohibition law has been amended thrice since April 2016, illegal trade in both Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and country-made brew has been thriving. The government has been conducting regular raids using drones, breath analysers, and setting up more check posts with personnel holding hand-held scanners at inter-State borders. Over 5.5 lakh cases related to violation of provisions under the amended Act has been registered and over 7.5 lakh people have been arrested, but the conviction rate in such cases has been very low — 21.98% till February this year. Over 1.6 crore litres of illegal IMFL and 97 lakh litres of country-made liquor have been seized in the State since April 2016. As many as 74 special courts (excise) have been made functional and awareness programmes like street plays and posters are regularly put up but there has been no apparent let-up in the illegal supply of liquor. Hundreds of policemen and excise officials have been suspended for violating prohibition laws. The Chief Minister said that based on the findings of the fresh survey, new measures will be introduced.
- To curb alcoholism, the Bihar government amended the Bihar Excise Act, 1915 and promulgated the Bihar Prohibition and Excise (Amendment) Act, 2016 from April 5, 2016, introducing total prohibition in the State.
- Months after the Bihar Prohibition and Excise (Amendment)Act, 2016 was enforced, as many as 19 people died in August, 2016 at the Khajurbanni locality of Gopalganj district after consuming illicit liquor.
- There have been two surveys on the impact of the liquor ban in the State — in August 2018 and February 2023, initiated by the State government.