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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The tragedy of prohibition

Reeling under the worst ever hooch tragedy,which claimed 150 lives,the Gujarat government has decided to amend the existing law with provisions for the death penalty and life imprisonment for those involved in brewing and distributing illegal and spurious liquor. A look at how prohibition has fared in the country and elsewhere in the world....

Written by Rohan Panjiar |
July 17, 2009 2:03:46 am

Brief history

Keeping in mind Mahatma Gandhi’s strong urge to ban liquor production and sale,the framers of the Constitution included Article 47 in the Directives Principles of State Policy. The Article states,“The state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the use except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.” Madras and Bombay (present day Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra and Gujarat) implemented prohibition between 1948 and 1950. Total prohibition was in operation in Madras (Tamil Nadu),Maharashtra,Gujarat and 11 districts of Andhra Pradesh from 1958 to 1969,and other sizable areas in Assam,Madhya Pradesh,Orissa,Karnataka and Kerala. By 1954,one-fourth of India’s population was under prohibition. The Prohibition Enquiry Committee in 1954 set April 1958 as the target to achieve national prohibition.

The potential loss in state revenue due to loss of excise revenue from the sale of alcohol discouraged most state governments from enforcing prohibition on a long-term basis,as it accounts for almost 10 per cent of total state revenues,and in the case of Punjab it accounts for over one-third.

In 1964,the Centre offered to compensate the state governments 50 per cent of their loss in excise revenue caused by the implementation of prohibition. However,most states did not take up this proposal and removed prohibition. But Gujarat and Mizoram retained the law. In 1977,under Morarji Desai’s government a renewed hope for prohibition emerged. But nation-wide prohibition was not achieved.

Demands for prohibition slowly gave way to temperance as the negative effects of prohibition included wide-scale sale of spurious and cheap liquor which can cause health problems and deaths,the rise of organised crime and bootlegging due to the growth of a black market for alcohol. Apart from this,the resultant loss of jobs to people working in breweries and vineyards was another stumbling block.

A large police force is also required to implement prohibition. For example,in Gujarat there are only 1,200 policemen assigned with the task and during election,1,050 of them were given election duty.

The previous Union health minister A Ramadoss had raised demand for prohibition,urging for a national alcohol policy and a nation-wide prohibition.

In Haryana

An unsuccessful attempt to implement prohibition was made between 1996 and 1998 for a period of 19 months by former chief minister Bansi Lal,based upon an election promise he had made to his voters. Women and children smuggling alcohol was common. The illegal trade in cheap liquor from Uttar Pradesh and Punjab spawned a mafia network that had the protection of political figures in the state,so much so that the Justice J C Verma Commission indicted Bansi Lal and his prohibition minister Ganeshi Lal for creating a “situation for smuggling of liquor”. Haryana also lost Rs 1,200 crore in terms of excise revenue. After a bad show in the Lok Sabha elections for Bansi Lal’s Haryana Vikas Party,prohibition was reversed in Haryana.

In Andhra

Andhra Pradesh imposed prohibition under the chief ministership of N T Rama Rao in 1994 after an anti-liquor movement grew in momentum,comprising rural and urban women of the state. Eleven districts of the state were under prohibition from 1958 to 1969. Prohibition in the state was largely a result of the anti-liquor movement that grew out of an agitation started by the women of rural Dubuganta district. In 1997,NTR’s successor N Chandrababu Naidu revoked prohibition claiming it was “not successful or feasible because of the leakages within the state and from across the borders”. Since 1997,the state has been flooded with 7,500 liquor shops,over 14,000 unauthorised “belt” shops along with as many as 32 distilleries.

In Northeast

Manipur,Mizoram and Nagaland are known as dry states,as there’s a total ban on liquor sale and consumption in these three states. Nagaland was the first to introduce prohibition in 1989 under pressure from the influential Naga Mother’s Association. The Congress has termed it a “total failure” and pleaded prohibition be revoked. In Mizoram,with the passing of the Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act in 1995,the state became “dry”. The Church played an important role in the enforcement of prohibition. In 2007,the state government made concessions to facilitate the production of wine for export purposes so that the wine industry in the state could grow and create employment opportunities. In Manipur,prohibition was demanded by women’s groups and several underground armed outfits. It was enforced in 1991. However,this year the Okram Ibobi Singh government has taken a Cabinet decision to lift prohibition from the five hill districts of Manipur in order to allow the government to raise revenues by Rs 50 crore per annum.

In Gujarat

Despite prohibition,mafia gangs and corrupt officials have ensured a steady supply of liquor and that too,at increased rates. In 1977,illicit liquor in Ahmedabad claimed 101 lives. In 1989,in Vadodara,132 people lost their lives in a similar tragedy. Following this,an inquiry commission,headed by Justice A A Dave,asked the government to review the prohibition policy. However,the government rejected the commission’s recommendation. Prohibition has created large-scale corruption in Gujarat,with even politicians and police personnel being involved in the illicit trade.

Elsewhere in the world

Prohibition was introduced in the US in 1920 through the 18th Amendment based on the rising demand from pietistic Protestants,the Anti-Saloon League,the Prohibition Party and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. However,the “noble experiment”,as it was termed,failed,because alcohol was illegally imported from neighbouring Mexico and Canada by mafia syndicates,such as that of Al Capone’s,who made their riches from bootlegging and selling alcohol in speakeasies. In 1933,prohibition was repealed by Roosevelt.

Finland and Iceland enforced prohibition between 1919-1932 and 1915-1922,respectively. In Norway,distilled beverages were prohibited between 1916 and 1927. In Arab countries,the consumption and sale of alcohol is illegal. However,foreigners and non-Muslims are pardoned from this rule. Prohibition was implemented from 1914 to 1925 in Russia and the Soviet Union.

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