Gujarat & north-eastern States

Dry only in name

Print edition : May 01, 2015

A roadroller being used to crush bottles of seized liquor at Sanathal village near Ahmedabad on January 29, 2011. Photo: PTI

Preparing local liquor in Sekmai area on the outskirts of Imphal, a file picture. In Manipur, sale and consumption of liquor has been prohibited since 1991. Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste communities are given exemption to brew liquor for ritual purposes. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

Prohibition has been the policy of Gujarat from the inception of the State, but that has not prevented the flow of liquor there.


GUJARAT: Thriving business



By Anupama Katakam

EVERY year the Gujarat government attempts to make a statement when it comes to alcohol. Thousands of bottles of Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) are lined up in an open field just outside Ahmedabad. As a roadroller begins crushing the bottles, media photographers capture the scene to be splashed across the print and electronic media.

It is a minuscule percentage of what really seeps into the State, says a government officer. Gujarat, one of the five “dry” States in India, shares borders with Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, none of which are dry States. Whoever this correspondent spoke to regarding the subject would laugh sardonically, saying that if anything it is the wettest! Bootlegging has become a sophisticated, creative and thriving business here. Theoretically, prohibition is in force in Gujarat. Large sections of people, mainly women, say that it has been effective, especially with regard to safety. Ahmedabad is touted as one of the safest cities in the country. On the flip side, everyone is aware that alcohol is freely available but not openly. Prohibition has allowed an underground liquor trade to flourish and this has filled the pockets of many. Worse still are hooch tragedies. In 2009, 159 died after drinking spurious liquor in Ahmedabad.

Many people say the liquor trade should be legalised in the State. The State is losing out almost Rs.2,500 crore of revenue in excise annually, says a government official. Furthermore, he says, legalisation of the liquor trade will hopefully reduce the spread of home-made brewers who go so far as to use dangerous chemicals in the mix.

“The law is more on paper then on the ground. There is little will to implement it and absolutely no courage to repeal it,” says Indira Hirway, Director and Professor of Economics at the Centre for Development Alternatives, Ahmedabad. “I call it meaningless tokenism. They kept it going in the name of Gandhi, but the way alcohol is freely available is a form of hypocrisy. In fact, I don’t know who gains from it other than those involved in the huge illegal business.”

Gujarat has had prohibition since the creation of the State. Soon after Independence, when the State was still part of Bombay State, it followed the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949, under which the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol were prohibited. When it attained statehood in 1960, the law was adopted and prohibition continued in the name of upholding Gandhi’s values in his homeland. Following the 2009 hooch tragedy, it passed a more stringent law seeking capital punishment for those manufacturing spurious liquor using methyl alcohol.

Home delivery

In spite of these strict laws, if one needs a tipple, reportedly it is among the easiest things to get. “A drink is just a phone call away. As easy as pizza delivery,” says a resident of Ahmedabad.

The illicit sale is carried out by a “folder”, a local term for the delivery boy. Moreover, a liquor permit for “medical” reasons can also be procured. Many well-to-do people in Gujarat hold medical liquor permits, a legitimate way to consume alcohol.

While the wealthy are able to afford IMFL that is delivered at their doorsteps, the poor buy “potlis” (pouch) of locally brewed country liquor. These are made in makeshift breweries that exist in specific shanties across the city. As dusk falls, workers, auto drivers and labourers make their way to these neighbourhoods to procure little packets of alcohol that can cost as little as Rs.10 a pouch. The authorities turn a blind eye to the goings-on. Dakxin Charra, who works with people that brew country alcohol as a livelihood, says it is a complete nexus where everyone is hand in glove with everyone else—including politicians and police officials.

Interestingly, Charra, who comes from a community that has traditionally brewed alcohol, says if they legalise IMFL, thousands of people will be without work. They earn close to Rs.400-500 a day by selling potlis of pure country alcohol that he says is completely safe and chemical-free.

The unofficial estimate of the sale of IMFL in Gujarat is anywhere between Rs.500 crore and Rs.1,000 crore annually. Government officials say that annually liquor worth about Rs.100 crore is seized and believe that it is a small percentage of the actual amount that comes in via the State’s porous borders.

In 2007, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, considering that foreign as well as some Indian businesses were seemingly not attracted to Gujarat because of its dry law, said alcohol permits would be given to special economic zones (SEZs).

A few years later, liquor norms were relaxed even for visitors who did not have to go to the SEZs. A 30-day liquor permit can be bought for Rs.100 at the airports, which have a special counter, or at a five-star hotel. Visitors staying longer will have to apply for a non-resident permit to have a drink.

“Enforcing prohibition in this State has not been successful. I will, however, say women prefer to keep it going. It does give them a sense of safety and security,” says Achyut Yagnik from the Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, an Ahmedabad-based voluntary organisation working with the marginalised communities.



NORTH-EASTERN STATES: Divided opinion



By Sushanta Talukdar



Manipur and Nagaland continue to be “dry States” in the north-eastern region, while Mizoram lifted its 17-year-long ban on the sale and consumption of liquor in January this year. Opinion is building up in both States that the ban should be withdrawn either partially or totally as a means to prevent bootlegging and to curb rampant alcohol consumption. However, churches and various civil society groups have cautioned that the withdrawal of prohibition would only aggravate the situation, ruin society and push more youths into alcoholism.

For the past 25 years, there has been a total ban on the possession, sale, consumption and manufacture of liquor and on the import and export of liquor in Nagaland under the Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition (NLTP) Act, 1989.

On September 26, 2014, the Naga People’s Front (NPF)-led government in the State convened a public consultative meet in Kohima with the tribal Hohos (apex tribal councils), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society groups on the issue of the implementation of the NLTP Act 1989. Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang requested the participants to give their opinion whether the existing prohibition should be strengthened or be lifted totally or partially. He said that the Act did not work as envisioned.

The State’s Excise Department roughly estimates that about Rs.500-600 crore flows to other States on account of illegal liquor trade in Nagaland, with bootleggers and black-marketeers thriving in Dimapur, Kohima and Mokokchung districts and distilleries and liquor stores operating in Assam close to the Assam-Nagaland border.

The consultative meet, however, failed to arrive at a consensus whether the total prohibition should continue or be lifted. A resolution was adopted urging the Nagaland government to set up an expert committee to study in detail the issues relating to the implementation of the NLTP Act.

The resolution also stated that the committee may study the implementation of prohibition in other States and their experience as well as the outcome of such policies, and list out the factors that support and oppose lifting the total prohibition for further examination by the government and consultations with civil society before taking a final decision.

In Manipur, sale and consumption of liquor has been prohibited ever since the enactment of the Manipur Liquor Prohibition (MLP) Act, 1991. Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste communities are given exemption under the Act to brew liquor for ritual purposes. A powerful social movement and campaign by the women’s activist group Meria Paibis (Women Torchbearers) against rampant alcoholism was instrumental in the enactment of the law.

However, the Act has failed to curb illegal sale and consumption of liquor; IMFL is smuggled in and the sale of illicit country liquor is rising alarmingly.

According to the Election Commission of India, during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Excise Departments seized 1,352 litres of liquor in Manipur and 76,830 litres in Nagaland. This speaks volumes about the illegal liquor trade that has been going on in these two “dry States”.

Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh told the State Assembly in July 2014 that the Congress government led by him had been actively considering lifting the prohibition and issuing liquor licences under certain terms and conditions as the MLP Act had failed to curb the sale and consumption of liquor in the State. He said that the revenue collection in the State could be enhanced if free sale of liquor was allowed. He also said that lifting of prohibition would facilitate the export of quality indigenous liquor from the State and would also reduce consumption. He said public opinion would be sought before the government took any step.

Mizoram ended 17 years of prohibition on liquor on January 15, 2015, when the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Act, 2014, replaced the Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition (MLTP) Act, 1995 (promulgated on February 20, 1997). The new Act extends to the whole of Mizoram, except Chakma Autonomous district, Lai Autonomous district and Mara Autonomous district, constituted under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India.

The Lal Thanhawla-led Congress government went ahead to pass the Bill in the Assembly on July 10, 2014, despite strong opposition in the House and from the influential Mizoram Presbyterian Church outside the House in the Christian-dominated State.

Under the new Act, a person of 21 years of age and having no record as an illegal liquor seller may apply for permit to purchase, possess and consume liquor. The limit of sale to a person holding such a permit shall be six bottles of IMFL (750 ml or its equivalent) and 10 bottles (650 ml or its equivalent) each of beer and wine in one month. The new Act empowers citizens to arrest any person who commits a non-bailable and cognisable offence under the Act provided they immediately hand over such persons to an excise and narcotics officer or a police officer or, in their absence, to the nearest excise station or police station.

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