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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 29 New Delhi July 9, 2016

Is Social Transformation possible through Prohibition?

Saturday 9 July 2016

by Renu Choudhary

Liquor prohibition in Bihar is the latest agenda of the Bihar Government which has been implemented recently and whose initial success has been well appreciated. Blanket ban on liquor is not new to India. It has been adopted in many states like Gujarat, Nagaland, parts of Manipur, Lakshadweep. Kerela has been implementing prohibition in a phased manner since 2014.In Tamil Nadu also it was a part of the electoral agenda and now after winning election Jaya Lalita is affirmative towards prohibition of liquor. In Bihar it was implemented in 1979 during Karpoori Thakur regime but was later withdrawn. It was in the electoral agenda (2015 Assembly elections) of Nitish Kumar and was later fulfilled by a two step plan when he came to power: first with a ban on country liquor which was effective from April 1, followed just four days later with a total prohibition on the sale of Indian made foreign liquor.

It is indeed a very good and appreciable step. It got wide social support especially from women not only within its own state but also across India. There are many cases of positive response of blanket ban on liquor. Jai Gobind Singh and his wife, Vijayanti Devi, residents of Mohuddiganj in Bihar’s Sasaram district, were married about two decades ago. But since then, Vijayanti, 50, was fed up of her husband’s chronic alcoholism, beatings and abuses. In 2003, Vijayanti took her daughter, then just a year old and walked out of the house. Now after 13 years couple got married in their 50’s and their marriage was organised by their daughter.

There are several cases of atrocities against women due to alcoholism. Kaushalya a maid doing household work in Patna has been so enthusiastic that she vowed to vote for Nitish Kumar for her entire life She quotes “Now my husband has given me 1800 in just six days of ban on alcohol. Now there is no beating and abuses also”. There are numerous example where there is massive support from women. In Purnia 13 member team of navjyoti a self help group of women is fighting against liquor consumption. They destroy country liquor manufacturing unit.

There are reasons for wide support from women because they are the one who suffers the most. They are worst affected by alcoholism. There are women from other states who are inspired by it and are demanding for total ban on alcohol in their respective state.

There are other gains of total prohibition. Road accidents have decreased after the blanket ban. According to civil surgeon of Nalanda road accidents have declined by 70 per cent in the initial 13 days of the ban. There is fall in number of offences. According to DGP Bihar there is fall in crime after total prohibition.

Criminal cases reported 

No. District April 1-23, 2015 April 1-23, 2016

1 Patna 1271 1146

2 Nalanda 581 322

3 Bhojpur 295 262

4 Buxar 305 198

5 Rohtas 415 325

6 Kaimur 311 75

 Total 3178 2328

* (Report published in Prabhat Khabar, April 26, 2016)

Every decision has some positive and some negative aspect. Total prohibition has negative impact also. It is said that Liquor ban is good for Biharis but bad for Bihar. Bihar is now a dry State; the ban has hit the state economy and may increase trade of illicit liquor. Bihar has earned 3500 crore through liquor in the year 2014-15 which accounts to 15 per cent of the government’s total intake. The Bihar State Beverages Corporation Limited (BSBCL) is likely to loose Rs 150 crore after liquor ban in the State. Transporters, who were in liquor transport business, are in total loss. Bihar ban fuels liquor sale rise in the neighbouring states like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand. According to Times of India report Giridih recorded a rise of 20,000 litres, Deogarh registered a rise of 5000 litres, Chatra registered a rise of 4000 litres of liquor sales in April 2016 compared to April 2015. Blanket ban on alchoholic drinks in Bihar has helped the growth of tourism in Nepal and smuggling of Nepalese liquor in India.

The total prohibition of liquor has turned out to be a nightmare for hotel and hospitality industry in the state. Booking for parties and conferences has been cancelled. Corporate business has been adversely affected. Corporate clients have shifted their meetings and conferences to other states. Following the liquor ban some liquor addicts seems to be switching to cannabis, marijuana and opium based on narcotic drugs.

So these are the pros and cons of liquor prohibition. But the question arises which aspect should be more entrusted upon. Whether ban should continue or not? Allowing liquor sale in the state will be beneficial for the GDP of the state, it will be beneficial for capitalist who are in this business. If we inculcate Marxian perspective, it could be said that capitalist in the market want to continue its sale. It’s a kind of means of exploitation of the people and it is something that people themselves indulge in it. Alcohol gives them temporary cognitive relief from their stress at the cost of their income, family, health and happiness.

How long this prohibition is going to last is also a million dollar question. There are number of instances which shows that it success is a temporary phenomenon. In America National prohibition of alcohol (1920-33)—the “noble experiment”—was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in the country. Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became “organized”; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant. No measurable gains were made in productivity or reduced absenteeism. Prohibition removed a significant source of tax revenue and greatly increased government spending. It led many drinkers to switch to opium, marijuana, patent medicines, cocaine, and other dangerous substances that they would have been unlikely to encounter in the absence of Prohibition. The results of that experiment clearly indicate that it was a miserable failure on all counts. The evidence affirms sound economic theory, which predicts that prohibition of mutually beneficial exchanges is doomed to failure.

One more question haunts the mind. Why was the Nitish Government following a pro-liquor policy so much so that at one stage the number of liquor vendors, which was 3436 during the year 2006-07, increased to 5467 during the year 2012-13. Bihar earned Rs 475 crores in the year 2007-08 by liquor sale; it rose up to Rs 3500 crores in the year 2014-15 which amounted to 15 per cent of the total tax intake. It amounted to 637 per cent growth in seven years. This was a huge profit for Bimaru state like Bihar. What made Nitish Kumar to switch over from such a profitable business? It is said that plight of women due to alcoholism transformed Nitish Kumar from a businessman to a sensitive human, who now gave more importance to happiness, cohesiveness within the family and society. It’s great to think for the welfare of the people rather than mere economic growth. We should not think about national prosperity only in terms of GDP but we should also look at the happiness index. Today the world is talking about the happiness index.

According to the World Happiness Report 2016, a global initiative of the UN, India ranked at 118th position. We really need to rise on that index. So, it’s a noble task which has been implemented by the state government, in which priority is given to cohesive happiness rather than GDP. The social transformation that will take place in the culture of the family due to total prohibition will be no less than what high GDP inculcates. But for backward state like Bihar economic growth is also very important, other avenues should also be explored to compensate this deficit so that this programme is successful for the long term.


• Mark Thornton, The Economics of Prohibition, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1991.

World Happiness Report, published by Sustainable Development Solution network (SDSN), 2016.

• ‘Bihar ban fuels liquor ban in Jharkhand’, report published in The Times of India, May 6, 2016.

The author is an Assistant Professor (Sociology/ Social Anthropology), A.N. Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna. She can be contacted at e-mail: renuchdry@gmail.com