The Madhya Pradesh government’s 2017 excise policy makes the mind boggle at its ambition. It wants to do many things with regard to liquor and those who partake — name, watch, isolate; fix pollution, rehabilitate. The zeal of the MP government against alcohol is understandable — it is an issue that may yield political dividends in the short term. But it also displays a level of confusion and government overreach that is disturbing. Unlike Bihar and Gujarat, prohibition is not in effect in MP. Yet, the government plans to record and monitor those who “regularly purchase” alcohol, as a way to identify those that require rehabilitation — which will include meditation and yoga. Such surveillance, in addition to being a violation of the right to privacy, effectively criminalises swathes of the population.
Incredibly, alcohol, or those that sell it, are also being held responsible for riverine pollution — once their licenses expire, liquor shops within five kilometres of the Narmada will have to move.
The campaign against alcohol has become, in recent times, a way to circumvent basic principles of justice. In Bihar, the government has held that the families of those who consume or store alcohol will be culpable for the violation of prohibition. Now, in MP, individuals will be monitored for their entirely personal, wholly legal choices. Quite apart from the losses that the MP excise policy will cause the state exchequer, it is disturbing how easily the government is willing to play Big Brother at the expense of the autonomy of its citizens.
There is no easy solution to the problem of alcohol abuse. Awareness campaigns and rehabilitation centres, which are also part of the MP government’s plan, are a step in the right direction. It should focus more on using such campaigns and economic disincentives, rather than make alcohol a bogey that justifies the ever-extending arm of the state.