Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Gauntlet of dry law

Even when it was in the process of being legislated the Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act 1989, has always divided society between the proponents and opponents. The Act came into being after pressure from the mothers and church and without proper debate in the house and subsequent preparations for an exercise that was heavily loaded against success. These were considered as awesome coalition against which, no government or political party would dare to cross swords with. The Act made consumption of liquor its sale and distribution a crime. Today, in India liquor prohibition is in force in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Tripura, Lakshadweep, Mizoram, and Nagaland. It is also banned partially in some districts of Manipur. The Act was meant to rid the state of the evil from alcohol but even around 33 years after its enactment, the consumption has increased manifold. The Act has, like in many cases nationwide or worldwide, only proved how extremely difficult it is to implement them. One of the biggest threat to the Act is that due to the circumstances, it only serves to open windows and doors for unscrupulous criminal elements to distil and supply adulterated liquor. The availability of spurious liquor manufactured at illicit distilleries within and beyond Nagaland, is also a serious matter. Many consumers of spurious liquor are dying in big numbers. The liquor business in Nagaland today runs into some hundreds of crore rupees a year even as number of consumers too has multiplied. According to media reports emanating from Assam, three states in the north east which are dry (at least on paper)- Nagaland, Mizoram and some districts of Manipur – are considered major markets for liquor but sold at premium. At most times, the cheaper brand also means spurious ingredients that are very harmful to the consumer. According to a media report emanating from Assam, liquor is channelized to these three states from Arunachal Pradesh via Assam, often under the guise of supply for defence canteens. The reports also revealed, that Khatkhati, Lahorijan, Chungajan etc are major routes to Nagaland. The report also claimed that distilleries in Arunachal Pradesh are doing a roaring business to supply liquor to other dry north eastern states. There are allegations that Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur-bound liquor-laden trucks from warehouses in Arunachal Pradesh, mostly have papers shown as supplies for defence canteens in the three States. While a lot of money and manpower is required to enforce the Act, huge excise revenue is also lost on its account. Proponents however insist that cost of enforcing the Act is unavoidable to prevent evil of liquor. For the proponents, loss in excise revenue due to the Act is not their concern nor their problem. The rigid stand in favour of the Act will neither reduce nor stop consumption of liquor and consequently, protect health and lives. If the objective is to reduce or stop liquor consumption then it cannot be done through prohibition. The logical route would be to be clear about what is achievable and what is not achievable. Also the government needs to rise up to the challenge of exercising its prerogative on using wisdom in playing its role in governance instead of indulgence shown to various pressure groups.