Sunday, August 14, 2022

Never ending debate

Over the past decade or so, there have been a series of debates on whether the Nagaland Total Liquor Prohibition (NLTP)Act 1989 has achieved its objective- make Nagaland totally alcohol-free or in Hindi, daru -mukht Nagaland. There was an attempt in 1993 to take a hard look at the Act with the objective of getting all on board. The government sponsored consultative meeting was to debate on whether the Act achieved much of its objective or failed? In case the majority view was that, not only has it failed but instead invited more problems, then the question was whether it should be lifted? However, in the end, despite the rationale for lifting a failed Act presented itself and when the strongest opposition against lifting of the Act came from the church, the government developed cold feet. Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) in 2021, reiterated its commitment to uphold the Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act 1989, some 32 years after it became a law. Further the Church had urged also upon the government to practically and strictly implement the Act, while it also resolved to “sincerely carry out the ministry towards the alcoholics and related problems.” Since then, the debate raged on with more consultations but the government was reluctant to bell the cat. Recently the Adviser DoSE attracted flak for suggesting that revenue for improving education and health facilities, could be obtained from excise if NLTP Act is lifted. The statement may have been to highlight a point on the need for revenue which the deficit-laden state is unable to raise. According to estimates, the approximate “turnover” of sale of banned liquor is worth nearly Rs.200 crore annually and could even be higher. There are scores of ‘liquor barons’ both in and out of Nagaland, involved in this thriving trade. Quantity of liquor, both smuggled from outside and “manufactured” in illicit distilleries within the state, have mushroomed. A senior doctor with the government had earlier remarked, that the dry law in Nagaland was a farce and a total failure. The spike in the death rate due to consumption of adulterated and spurious alcohol has become a serious issue. It not only causes death but also huge economic loss. Even some organizations which had supported the dry law, today are not disinclined for a review. Their main concern, is that the ban has only opened the floodgates for a thriving black market where more than 90% of liquor consumed are spurious and causing many deaths. Proponents of the prohibition act probably believed that merely passing the law would rid society of evils of alcohol but in reality, the dry law is a misnomer since Nagaland is among the wettest dry state. Interestingly, as per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) report, in the age group of 15-49, the dry state of Nagaland is higher than the national average. On the flip side, prohibition may have made alcohol ‘out of sight and out of mind’ but those who seek find it from wrong hands and wrong places. The government has to apply its mind on which of the two is the lesser evil. Any policy imposing a ban acts as a carpet bombing at first but then the devastating effects emerge which lead to an ultimate failure of the policy. The blunt truth in front of society is that such policies have failed in most states of India.

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