Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Friday accused the Centre and some states, including Kerala, of devising ways to circumvent the Supreme Court order to shut down liquor shops within 500 meters of national and state Highways.
“It is a stark violation of the letter and spirit of the apex court judgement,” he said. Recalling the apex court’s December 2016 order, Kumar said it had been issued to tackle the menace of drunken driving, resulting in the fatal road accidents. States, including Kerala, which in compliance of this order were trying to shift liquor shops to areas beyond 500 meters or in inhabited areas are facing huge public uproar, he said. He was addressing the 18th State-level Assembly of Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Conferences Temperance Movement at Bharananganam in the district. He urged the Centre and the state governments, including that of Kerala, to follow the Bihar model and “seriously consider total prohibition in the country.”
“Taking an excuse of revenue loss or fall in tourism, many states are trying to work out strategies to overcome this situation. Even the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways has said they are open to considering proposals of the state governments, wanting de-notification of the national highways.”
Kumar said some states had de-notified the state highways to circumvent the order on some pretext or other. “This is in stark violation of the letter and spirit of the order of the Supreme Court,” he said. He noted that changing the characterisation of the national and state highways would not change the traffic load or the nature of these roads, nor solve the grave problem of drunken driving, leading to the fatal road accidents.
Attacking the liquor policy of the CPI(M)-led LDF government, he said the liquor policy in Kerala, put in place in October 2014 by the then UDF government, had aimed at closure of 10 per cent of the retail outlets every year in such a manner as to bring about total prohibition in a decade. He asked Kerala to implement total prohibition in one go than in phases. “I also welcome them to send a study team to Bihar to examine and evaluate the impact of prohibition.” Kumar said the mood of the nation was slowly but surely inching towards prohibition.
Stating that he could see the ‘writing on the wall,’ he said various courts in the country in their recent judgements had pointed out the ill effects of alcohol and other forms of intoxication, clearly underlining that trade or consumption of liquor is not a fundamental right. He said the demands from various quarters were becoming louder in various states, where people, especially women and youths, were calling for “Bihar-like prohibition,” forcing the governments to reconsider their views.
Kumar hoped the Centre too would note of these developments and would seriously consider total prohibition in the country. The JD(U) leader said ever since the prohibition came into force in Bihar, it was a revelation to see the social transformation in the state. The crime data showed that after imposition of the liquor ban from April 2016, there has been a steep decline in major crimes like murder, dacoity and loot.
The cases of domestic and street violence too have gone down drastically while there has been a sharp decline in the number of motor vehicle accident cases and deaths, he said. Kumar said serious questions were raised when Bihar had to forego about Rs 5,000 crore revenue due to the prohibition. He claimed common people of Bihar now save more than Rs 10,000 crore which they would have otherwise spent on liquor.
In one year after prohibition, there has been an increase in sale of milk, the consumption of sweets and milk products, the growth in sale of hosiery and ready-made garments. There was also an upward swing in sale of electrical goods, consumer durables, furniture, fast moving consumer goods and the plastic goods, he said.
“Even the revenue collections for the financial years 2016-17 substantiates our stand,” Nitish Kumar said. Despite prohibition and adverse impact of demonetisation on business, commercial activities, transactions in land and property, there was only a minor difference of some Rs 1,000 odd crore in overall revenue collection.
“Thus the much talked about losses in revenue does not hold ground. Moreover the social dividends of this policy are very high and far reaching,” he said. Catholic Church leaders, including Cardinal George Alencherry, and Congress leader V M Sudheeran who attended the meet, hailed the Bihar government’s decision on prohibition and described Kumar as ‘champion of prohibition’ in India.