Bihar’s > implementation of total prohibition invited a range of reactions the day after: from an angry actor to jubilant women whose husbands could no longer indulge their habit, to traders with renewed bar licences venting their frustration, to a petition in the Patna High Court, and ‘withdrawal symptoms’ among addicted drinkers.
Actor Rishi Kapoor tweeted his dismay. “10 years imprisonment for alcohol — five years for illegal possession of arms? Wah Nitish! Me no coming to Bihar! How myopic can you get in 2016?” he wrote, following it up with another tweet that said Bihar would encourage bootlegging. Prohibition had failed worldwide and the State would also lose Rs. 3,000 crore in revenue.
In the High Court, a public interest litigation was filed challenging the State government’s decision. The petition filed by advocate Awadhesh Narayan Singh contended that the government’s decision violated the rights of a citizen on what he could eat or drink. It also described the new State Excise Act, 2016, as “draconian, arbitrary and mala fide, and in violation of Articles 14, 19, 21 and 22 of the Constitution”. The date for hearing the petition, though, has not been fixed.
The immediate fallout of the liquor ban was that regular drinkers like Mohd. Ghyasuddin of Bettiah of West Champaran district, who was admitted to a de-addiction centre after he reportedly started eating bath soap on Tuesday. Raghunandan Besra of Motihari in East Champaran is stated to have “fallen unconscious” after not drinking alcohol for a full day. An official said over 100 people were admitted to the newly opened government de-addiction centres in different districts in a 24-hour period.
Meanwhile, local liquor traders, officials at clubs and hoteliers expressed frustration at the advancing of the IMFL prohibition date. They had paid sizeable amounts to the government for renewal of their licence for 2016-17. Besides, they possessed a huge stock of liquor. Earlier, the decision was to ban IMFL only after six months, in the second phase.
“We paid Rs. 20 lakh for renewal of our licence and got permission on April 2 to operate our bar but just three days later the government, all of a sudden, banned all liquor…it’s a huge loss,” B. D. Singh, general manager of Hotel Maurya here said. The big hoteliers in Patna said that the ban meant an average annual revenue loss of Rs. 2 crore.
“We have to see how to dispose of the stock…no government official has come to us on this,” said Om Prakash, secretary of Patna’s long-standing Bankipore Club. “Supply of liquor has been the biggest draw. What will we serve our foreign visitors,” he asked.
The Opposition BJP has demanded “compensation” from the government for the liquor traders, hoteliers and clubs. “The government should compensate them as they will suffer huge loss,” BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said.
Elsewhere, it was jubilation. Women celebrated and thanked the Nitish Kumar government for the bold decision for a full ban. “Earlier, my husband used to drink country-made liquor everyday and beat us…our family was nearly ruined. Now he is spending his time with us at home…it gives us immense joy. Many thanks to Nitish Babu for this,” said Maya, a house maid. Women celebrated the government’s decision with gulal (colour power) smeared on themselves.
It was women who, during the Assembly poll campaign last year, demanded that Mr. Nitish Kumar ban alcohol and he promised to introduce prohibition. Critics say it is “more of a political decision for the Chief Minister than a social one. Using it as a masterstroke he consolidated half of the voters.”