At last, the Manipur cabinet has resolved to partially lift prohibition from certain areas and further regulate the sale and brewing of liquor in Manipur. One of the leading factors cited for taking the controversial decision was with regard to health and increase in the number of liver cirrhosis and kidney failure due to consumption of unregulated and adulterated liquor, both local and India Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL).
As per the cabinet decision, the sale of liquor will be confined only at some specific locations which include district headquarters, tourists’ spots, security camps, and hotels which have at least 20 bedded lodging facilities and that no one will be allowed to carry liquor in other places without receipt.
There is joy in many quarters as Manipur has been officially dry for more than three decades, although the black market of local brew and IMFL flourishes as it is so everywhere on the face of the earth. We are not concerned with the joy of those wealthy and powerful people who are out to make money from this decision, but we are happy for those Chakpa villages like Sekmai, Andro and Phayeng etc where the decision would give an economic boost.
As we had asked earlier, what had we been drinking the last few decades? The state government or the society have never been able to actually stop the production and sale of alcohol both local brew and IMFL in the state or ban people from consuming it. Never in the history of mankind has any state been able to enforce prohibition in totality while on the other hand it only enriches black marketers and leads to spurious liquor finding its way in the backstreets. One has heard enough of tragic deaths across the country after consuming spurious liquor.
The other serious problem is health related, where deaths from liver cirrhosis is mostly linked with consumption of adulterated liquor. Everyone knows that IMFL comes in drums at Khatkati at the Assam-Nagaland border where it is bottled into different brands by using flavours and shipped to God knows where. It is happening on the Myanmar side also, from where high-end foreign brands come.
The debate over whether to continue with prohibition or not has once again surfaced, this time recently in the floor of state assembly itself with senior Congress MLA K Ranjit taking the lead. While stressing that the impact of Prohibition Act in force is almost nil as locally distilled liquor and IMFL are abundantly available in the state, he questioned whether the state is considering lifting prohibition or not. It was like a million dollar question.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh made a statement that the state is still considering the proposal for lifting prohibition which he could not achieve in his last term as Chief Minister. Despite stiff opposition from women prohibition groups and other CSOs, he tried in 2018 to bring in the Manipur Liquor Prohibition (Second Amendment) Bill, 2018.
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The bill which proposes to enable manufacture local alcoholic liquor strictly for sale outside the state was referred to a Select Committee chaired by the then Deputy CM Y Joykumar Singh and after due deliberations the committee recommended it for passage in the assembly. Sadly, as widespread protests continued the proposed bill lapsed and once again it was placed in the backburner.
Prohibition was enforced in the state by the RK Ranbir Singh government on 1 April 1991, following a total ban by the outlawed organisation Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). Yet, calls for lifting it were going on ever since. In 2002, the Congress government led by O Ibobi lifted prohibition in the five hill districts of Manipur.
The state Legislative Assembly passed the Manipur Liquor Prohibition (Amendment) Bill, 2002 on 31 July 2002 lifting prohibition in the districts of Chandel, Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul. In 2015 again, the Ibobi government had mulled removing prohibition in the state, largely for economic reasons. The government then had contended that alcohol could provide a steady source of revenue for Manipur, which has always been dependent on Central largesse.
The government also suggested that local Manipuri brews could be exported to other parts of the country. However, he had to drop the idea in the wake of protests by various civil society groups.
The idea began to take shape once again after BJP’s N Biren Singh came to power. But the idea this time was not necessarily born out of the income it could generate for the state from exporting local liquor, but rather an unfortunate incident which happened on July 29, 2017 in which five people died after having consumed methanol-contaminated country liquor. It sparked off widespread protests against illegal distilleries and the failure of the government to enforce prohibition on totality while also stirring up an old debate about the reality of prohibition.
Now, N Biren Singh has done it. We hope he has a plan to deal with the public outcry among Nishaband women and pro-prohibition groups. However, we must say that it was rather silly of a minister who visited Goa and said that every household in Goa brews the local liquor named Feni and there are no liver cirrhosis cases there.