EVEN as state Minster of Relief and Rehabilitation, Vijay Wadettiwar, is pushing for lifting prohibition from Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts, prominent social and health activists Abgar and Rani Bang, and Prakash Amte, have written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, urging him against such a move.
Wadettiwar had recently announced that a committee would be set up to take a call on lifting prohibition in the two districts. The minister had earlier spoken about lifting prohibition only in Chandrapur. Now, the addition of Gadchiroli has raised concerns among social workers in the district.
“Commercial liquor has been banned in Gadchiroli district for the past 27 years. This prohibition is necessary and beneficial to the 5 lakh tribals and 4 lakh women in the district. They need it, they had demanded it, it is their right, and hence it must be retained,” stated a letter by the Bang couple, who run a tribal hospital and research centre in Gadchiroli.
“When people are dying of coronavirus, instead of saving them, the move to form a committee to lift prohibition as announced by Wadettiwar is morally wrong,” read the letter by the Bangs, who have earlier received the Maharashtra Bhushan and Padmashree. The couple has also sent their appeal to Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, state Excise Minister Dilip Walse-Patil, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
“The ‘Excise Policy for Tribal Areas’, approved by the central and the state governments, prohibits any sale of liquor or licence to liquor shops in tribal areas. A six-year public movement by the people in Gadchiroli, from 1987 to 1993, and resolutions by 600 villages had led to imposition of prohibition in the district in 1993. This led to a 50 per cent reduction in liquor consumption. Further, from 2016, a district-wide campaign, ‘Muktipath’, is in operation in the district under the task force chaired by the chief minister,” the Bangs have said.
They further claim, “As a result, (illegal) alcohol sale is very low in the district. A district sample survey in January 2020 showed that the 1.2 million population annually spent Rs 640 million on purchasing alcohol, compared to an estimated Rs 5,000 million by the average population of the same size in the state. Thus , the remaining (illegal) alcohol sale is only 13 per cent in Gadchiroli.”
Pointing out that the Panchayat Raj and PESA Constitutional amendments, and the Women’s Empowerment Policy in Maharashtra, give the power to ban liquor in villages to the gram sabhas and to the women, the Bangs said, “900 villages in Gadchiroli have passed such resolutions, and 700 villages have completely freed themselves of liquor sale. Given this background, any initiative to reintroduce alcohol sale in the district is harmful as well as against the constitutional rights of the people and of the women.”
Amte, a Magsaysay award-winning social activist who runs a hospital, a school and other facilities for tribals in remote Bhamragad tahsil, has also raised similar concerns. He has pointed out that imposition of prohibition in the adjoining Chandrapur district in 2015 had further improved the situation in Gadchiroli, since it had led to the stoppage of illegal smuggling of alcohol across the border. ”
Senior activist and architect of the community forest rights movement, Devaji Tofa, has also sought continuation of prohibition in Gadchiroli.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines