Prohibition to stay,but amendments on the cards

The Ahmedabad hooch tragedy has now the Modi government contemplating a move to make suitable changes...

Written by BASHIR PATHAN | Gandhinagar | Published:July 11, 2009 2:53 am

The Ahmedabad hooch tragedy has now the Modi government contemplating a move to make suitable changes in the existing Prohibition Act. While the state government formed a four-member inquiry commission headed by retired High Court Justice Kamal Mehta. In the past too after every hooch tragedy,inquiry commissions had recommended to the successive governments to either scrap the prohibition policy or make some sweeping changes in it. But,contrary to the recommendations,the present BJP government as well as the main Opposition Congress party are in favour of continuing the prohibition policy in this “dry” state. However,the Modi government is contemplating a move to make some suitable amendments in the existing Prohibition Act,so as to lend more teeth to it.

“To prevent hooch tragedies in Gujarat,the government has to amend the present prohibition laws,and also strengthen the provisions of the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA) to deal with the violators of these laws,” sources in the CMO said on Friday.

Even Minister of State for Home Amit Shah believes so. “It is up to the Commission of Inquiry set up to probe the Ahmedabad hooch tragedy to suggest to the government what to do. The violators get away with just a six-month sentence or so under the existing prohibition laws in the state,” says the minister. Asserting that his government is against relaxing the prohibition policy,Shah argues,“Relaxation in dry laws in our state will not serve any purpose. Killer brew tragedies do not happen only in Gujarat. They take place even in non-prohibition states ”.

Leader of the Opposition Shahktisinh Gohil also endorses the Home Minister’s views on the prohibition policy.“The Congress believes in Gandhiji’s ideology. There is no question of either scrapping or relaxing the existing prohibition laws. We may be losing about Rs 3,000 crore in excise duty,but it has had tremendous positive impact on our civil society,” the Opposition Congress leader contended.

In Gujarat,at least three other major hooch tragedies have taken place in the last three decades or so,with as many inquiry commissions.

 

Lessons not learnt

• The first hooch tragedy had occurred in the Sarangpur Daulatkhana locality of Ahmedabad in 1977,in which as many as 101 people had lost their lives and another 215 had been affected. An inquiry commission,headed by Chief Justice (retired) N M Miyabhoy,observed that the prohibition policy in Gujarat was a failure. Citing police corruption as a major problem,Miyabhoy recommended to the government that a special cell be set up under direct supervision of the state’s DGP to initiate action against corrupt prohibition officials.

• The next major tragedy took place in Vadodara in 1989,claiming 132 lives and affecting 200 others. An inquiry commission headed by Justice (retd) A A Dave recommended to the then Congress-ruled Government in Gujarat to either abolish the prohibition policy or make suitable changes in it: “If the prohibition policy is scrapped,it will not only help reduce (prohibition-related) cases of corruption,but also the funds the government spends on its implementation could be utilised on the welfare of the poor.” The government rejected this recommendation.

• Seventeen people died and 115 others were hospitalised in the hooch tragedy in Sutrapada of Junagadh district in 1990.

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