30 years on: The Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act

Correspondents KOHIMA, NOV 24 (NPN) | Publish Date: 11/24/2019 12:06:35 PM IST

With alcoholism still rife and spurious liquor flooding the State, posing a serious threat to the health of those consuming alcohol, many are now wondering whether prohibition introduced exactly 30 years ago had done Nagaland any good. 

In the face of growing alcoholism and associated social evils, the church led by Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) and Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) had started a massive campaign against liquor sale in the State in the 1980s. This forced the then Congress government to pass legislation in Nagaland Legislative Assembly – Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition (NLTP) Act, 1989 – that legalised prohibition in the State. However, 30 years down the line and with spurious liquor flooding the State due to lax implementation of the Act and young people becoming alcoholic, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Act has failed to serve its purpose.

And perhaps nothing underscores the gravity of the problem than the fact that 500 cases of alcohol and seven drugs-related cases were registered between January 2018 and August this year in the State. This was revealed to Nagaland Post by a senior excise department official. 

Also, unlike the popular perception, he said most of the liquor sellers were locals, some of whom were well-connected with VIPs too. He added that many shop owners selling such spurious liquor were single mothers as they had to take care of their children. Under the circumstances, the official explained that the excise officials usually gave warnings to such owners first and excused them because of their situations. Claiming that the excise department was doing its best to stop alcohol sale and consumption in the State, the official admitted that the situation was getting worse, adding the department even did not posses enough staff to properly enforce the prohibition. For instance, he said Kohima district had 31 staff, of which 11 were attached to check gates, while the remaining 20 were attached to office, thus leaving no staff for carrying out raids. 

The excise official was perhaps not speaking without basis. A bootlegger, who was a widow and had children, told this correspondent that she sold liquor worth about Rs 50,000 and even more every week. She revealed that most of her customers were in the age group of 15-40. 

She also explained that prices often varied even for the same brand as these depended on the quality of the alcohol. “Better the quality, more the price,” she added. 

A senior doctor and heath & family welfare department officer remarked that Nagaland could no longer be called as a dry State as the prohibition had been a total failure. The official said the department was very concerned over consumption of spurious liquor as it often led to death. 

Dr Senti of Naga Hospital Authority, Kohima (NHAK) claimed that 99% of the liquor, which normally flowed in from the neighbouring States, was spurious. He said the problem was accentuated by the fact that many did not have the will power to curb their drinking habits, nor bothered to do health check-ups from time to time, leading to more deaths, especially of alcoholics and druggies. 

According to well-known scholar and Northfield School administrator Peluopfhelie Kesiezie, drinking alcohol was a moral issue, so it should not have been banned in the first place. He said NBCC dealt with moral and not legal issues, while banning was a legal issue. 

Mentioning that NBCC did suggest the ban and stood by its stand, Kesiezie pointed out that this was a legal issue and the State government should not put the blame on the church or any other organisation alone as it had the full authority to go about and take strong action. 

And looking into the reality of the issues being faced today, he said reviewing the policy should be the first priority of the government now. He alleged that the government was hiding in the shadow of the church and other organisation because it was scared to face the public. 

Stating that the church played a big role in a Christian State, Kesiezie, however, alleged that it was not doing enough in Nagaland. The church should do more and put forward the gospel and spread the word that God loved even the alcoholics without condemning them, he added.

Meanwhile, when contacted, NMA adviser Rosemary Dzüvichü explained that the association, along NBCC, had campaigned for prohibition as alcoholism and drug abused had become a social menace then.

However, seeing the current situation, she said the association was in favour of reviewing the legislation. And each time the State government held consultation, NMA insisted that NBCC too should be made part of it, which the former was yet to act upon as the church body was not invited to the two such consultations, she added. 

Dzüvichü mentioned that NMA’s main concern was spurious liquor and alcoholism, even among women. 

She alleged that spurious liquor was readily available in roadside shops selling cold drinks, pan, photo chips, etc, yet these places were rarely raided as the government agencies, including the police, had turned a blind eye towards them. She said she felt that there was a nexus between the bootleggers and law enforcing agencies. 

Pointing out that it was an open secret that alcohol was readily available at government functions and parties, she wondered who would enforce the law if the law enforcers themselves behaved like this. 

Stating that it was time to renew and review the NLTP Act, the NMA adviser admitted that people would not stop drinking if the prohibition was lifted, but added that this would put a stop to adulteration as the department concerned would be able to freely check the alcohol quality.   

“You will not find any mother openly demanding lifting of the prohibition and letting everyone drink. But we are also concerned about adulteration and bootlegging, besides the government’s source of revenue,” she stressed. 

Dziivichii said the Nagas were caught in a bind – while being taught that consumption of alcohol was immoral, yet a section was pushed into alcoholism due to easy availability of spurious liquor, which was impacting their health often leading to death. 

Wanting the health & family welfare department to also take up the problem in right earnest and make people aware about the hazards of alcohol consumption, she also questioned the silence of public voice despite the issue concerning the future of youth.

On behalf of NBCC, its general secretary Dr. Z Kehyo admitted that the council did propose the Act, but stressed that the government should have come up with a strong mechanism to implement it. 

Admitting that NLTP Act had not been a success and that it had failed to help the people, he said the council was now looking forward to come up with practical solutions. He said NBCC was always open to go discussions on the issue.

While stressing that blaming each other would not help, he said the situation had become so bad now that “we need to start helping the people and come up with a better solution”. 

Kehyo asserted that NBCC was ready to hear and discuss the issue, but regretted that the council could not send its representatives to the last two consultations held by the government as it had received the invite at the eleventh hour.

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