Bihar to Enforce Prohibition From April 2016Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has reiterated his resolve to ban liquor in the state, a promise he had made to the people during the election campaign. He has said that there will be total prohibition in Bihar from the next financial year beginning April 1, 2016. This despite the fact that among the large states, Bihar generates the one of the lowest internal revenue of just Rs 31,000 crore out of which nearly Rs 4000 crore, or 15 percent, comes from excise duty on sales of liquor.
By Sunil Garodia
Nitish Kumar has thrown fiscal prudence to the winds in order to meet his election promise, a decision that is likely to put Bihar under huge financial strain. He has not disclosed how he is going to make up for the shortfall. The amount being foregone is huge and will put several social benefit schemes for the poor under strain. It will also increase the stateâs dependence on the Centre. As and when the state will not be able to contribute its share in welfare schemes, Central funds would not be released, leading to increased tiffs between diametrically opposed governments.
Prohibition as a state policy has not been fully effective anywhere in the world. In fact, there can never be effective policing of prohibition, leading to bootlegging, crude methods of manufacturing country liquor and rampant corruption. It will also result in creating alternate power centers of bahubalis with their gun-toting armies in a state which has haltingly snuffed out such elements. Complete prohibition in the state would give rise to the politician-bureaucrat-bootlegger-police nexus that can easily go out of hand. It is not difficult to foresee tragedies occurring in which the poor will die when they will consume spurious liquor made by fly by night operators. Rather than save the poor families from the ill effects of liquor, prohibition will expose them to dangerous side effects of unmonitored production and under-the-counter sale of such brew.
Perhaps, Nitish Kumar is being assaulted by pangs of guilt. His government had set up the Bihar State Beverages Corporation Limited (BSBCL) ten years back and had mandated that all liquor companies will have to sell liquor through BSBCL. Ever since then, the Bihar government had followed a very liberal liquor shop licensing policy, allowing the proliferation of such shops all over the state, including small cluster of villages. Having made liquor easily available and thereby contributing in the supposed ruining of poor agricultural families, Nitish now wants to make up by clamping total prohibition. If the first decision of a liberal liquor licensing policy was disastrous, the current decision will be worse. It will starve the state of much needed funds and will expose the poor to the dangers of consuming poison under the garb of liquor. Until and unless observance and enforcement is foolproof, prohibition is a multi-dimensional evil.