Manipur in Northeast India was declared a dry state in 1991 after the enactment of the Manipur Liquor Prohibition Act, 1991. The law was introduced following the public demand for prohibition, particularly from various women’s groups in the state because of the social and domestic issues arising out of alcohol consumption. The government has, now, decided to partially lift the prohibition in the state. For a better understanding of the government's decision, there is a need to take a closer look at the benefits and challenges of prohibition and otherwise.
There are a large percentage of people in society who use alcohol in controlled manner without apparent health and social problems. Some use it as a recreational drink and many are social drinkers. Unfortunately, some people use alcohol to the level of disease process or alcohol-related health disorders.
There are reports that cases of liver cirrhosis and kidney diseases are on the rise in the state. Many people, who consumed unregulated liquor, are reportedly suffering from such diseases, apart from creating violence and committing crimes in domestic spaces.
More than three decades after liquor prohibition was enforced in Manipur, the Cabinet of Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh has decided to partially lift the ban on brewing, consumption and sale of liquor to boost the state’s revenue as well as minimize health hazards caused by the consumption of illicit alcohol.
According to government sources, increase in liver and kidney diseases among a section of the population due to consumption of illicit liquor is said to be the main reason behind the decision to partially lift liquor prohibition in Manipur.
The prohibition will be lifted from all the district headquarters, including Imphal city, tourist destinations, hotels with at least 20-bed lodging facilities and camps of security forces.
This government decision comes at a time when various civil bodies are intensifying their campaign against rising drugs and alcohol abuse in the state.
In view of the wide availability of spurious liquor posing a serious threat to public health and life and also having an adverse impact on the state’s economy, it was decided to partially lift the ban on alcohol, according to the government’s spokesperson.
The term prohibition refers to legal prevention of the manufacture, storage, transportation, distribution, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages with the aim of obtaining total abstinence through legal means.
Prohibition and temperance have had an overlapping history in many countries since ancient times like in ancient China, Aztec civilization and feudal Japanese society.
The anti-liquor movement in the West is nearly two-centuries old. An abstinence pledge was introduced by churches in the United States as early as 1800.
One of the landmarks in the internationalization of the movement was the organisation of the World Prohibition Conference in London, in 1909. It was instrumental in the formation of the International Prohibition Confederation, embracing the United States of America, the European countries and a few other industrialised countries of the world.
Nationwide prohibition was enforced in the United States in 1920 (via 18th Amendment and National Prohibition Act). However, post 1933, a tilt towards liberalisation was seen as countries were unable to stop illicit liquor sale and were losing out on revenue.
In 1933, the National Prohibition Act was repealed in the United States. Most countries that introduced prohibition have withdrawn or liberalised the measure like the United States, Japan and China etc.
At present, there is a complete prohibition of liquor in five countries in the Middle-East/North Africa which include Afghanistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Sudan.
Some other countries like Brunei Darussalam, Comoro, Iran, Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria and Yemen – prohibit alcohol for Muslim citizens only.
The United Arab Emirates allows for some sale of alcohol, except for the region of Sharjah.
Entry 51 in the State List makes ‘Alcohol for human consumption’ a subject matter of states. This provides states the power to make laws and charge duties on alcoholic liquors for human consumption.
Also Read: Respect not Vilify “Yu”! Get GI Tag Instead
At present, ban on alcohol exists in the states of Gujarat, Bihar, Nagaland and Mizoram; while partial bans are existent in Lakshadweep and Manipur.
Some states like Haryana, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala had tried to implement prohibition of liquor but abolished it due to its ineffectiveness.
No doubt, it is common knowledge that drinking liquor adversely affects human health. It diminishes the utility and functioning of the vital organs of the body, especially liver and kidney.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, the harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 diseases and injury conditions and globally three million deaths occur every year due to harmful use of alcohol, that is 5.3 per cent of all deaths.
Article 47 of the Constitution directs the state to take measures to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.
Further, the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.
Several studies have pointed out direct correlation between consumption of alcohol and gender violence, including in the domestic space.
A study in Bihar had found that 40 per cent of ever-married women aged between 15 and 49 reported that they experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by their husbands during the previous 12 months.
Proponents argue that prohibition of liquor has potential to bring down the levels of intimate partner violence. A study conducted in Bihar has supported the argument. It pointed out that there has been a 28.9 per cent reduction in crimes against women in Bihar between 2016 and 2019 (after prohibition).
A reduction in alcohol consumption among the people is also desired to reduce crime in the society as intoxication impairs an individual’s ability to distinguish between right or wrong.
A report by the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) on prohibition in Bihar noted there was a 66.6 per cent dip in cases of kidnapping for ransom, followed by 28.3 per cent dip in murder cases and 2.3 per cent in dacoity or robbery cases.
Addiction to alcohol creates severe hardships for people, especially for poor families as the male members tend to spend more on alcohol due to their excessive addiction, leaving a meagre amount to run their families. This in turn reduces the budget for spending on essential items and in many cases pushes the family into heavy borrowings, even breaking up families. The 1992 Anti-arrack movement that took place in Andhra Pradesh is a testimony to this.
The money saved due to prohibition of liquor is used more productively, for example - the ADRI study pointed out that 19 per cent of households acquired new assets from the money they earlier splurged on alcohol.
A total ban on alcohol goes against an individual’s right to choice and undermines a person’s freedom. It is a matter of one’s choice as to what he eats and drinks and certainly not of the society or government to impose on the citizens.
However, it may be noted that the Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) industry contributes over INR 1 lakh crore to the country’s revenue in taxes every year. It supports the livelihood of 35 lakh farming families and provides direct and indirect employment to lakhs of workers employed in the industry. It also supports hundreds of ancillary industries in glass, tin, plastic and paper with a turnover of Rs 6,000-7,000 crore.
Moreover, complete prohibition has a negative impact on tourism and hospitality sectors.
Also, failure of effective implementation of prohibition on alcohol gives rise to bootlegging (the illegal production, transport and sale of liquor).
Liquor mafias emerge which keeps on supplying the illicit liquor (with no quality checks) to the masses. This defeats the purpose of prohibition of liquor, and gives rise to organised crime as well.
In India, many people lose their lives by consuming spurious or poor quality illicit liquor such as hooch. News reports indicate that as many as 60 people have died after consuming hooch in Bihar since November 2021.
Also Read: To Drink or Not to Drink!
Similar case of deaths caused by consumption of spurious local liquor happened at Leishangkhong Village of Wangoi in Manipur in recent times.
Critics argue that Alcohol prohibition is merely used as a political card, especially to woo women voters, who are often in the forefront of protest against liquor menace.
However, it does not solve the various problems related to alcohol consumption as people addicted to alcohol end up consuming hooch and other illegal alcoholic substances whose impact is similar or even worse than legally manufactured alcohol.
It creates a tremendous burden on the courts and enhances the pendency of cases. To cite a case, till February 2020, around 2.14 lakh alcohol-related cases were registered under Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016.
Generally, the local officials form a nexus with the liquor mafia and overlook the underground activities.
This police-mafia nexus problem is not limited to India, this had been evident in other countries such as the United States as well during the period of prohibition (1920-33).
The modus operandi of unlawful players keeps on changing from time to time.
The places of alcohol production, mode of transportation, and code languages keep on changing, making it extremely difficult to detect illegal activities.
The liquor gets smuggled from the neighbouring states. Example, Daman (neighbouring Gujarat) has a per capita consumption of 56 litres per annum against the national average of just 4.3 litres per annum. The data show it plays a key role in meeting the demand of alcohol in Gujarat.
The problem is also worsened by the case of unemployed youth. There is a huge number of unemployed youth who want to make quick money by smuggling illicit liquor. The youth who get caught are quickly replaced. Further, bail can be easily obtained due to nexus with officials.
The ban does not reduce the demand for alcohol, but rather intensifies it. People addicted to it are willing to risk their lives and drink illicit liquor just to satisfy their addiction.
In the case of the United States, the prohibition indirectly increased the use of drugs and other harmful substances among those who could not get hold of alcohol.
Also Read: What not to eat, drink
The principal reason why many prohibition strategies fail is because they seem to be based on the simplistic assumption that cutting off the supply impacts effective demand for alcohol. Hence, there is a need to adopt alternative strategies instead of a complete ban or prohibition on alcohol or liquor.
First, policy makers in the government should focus on framing laws which encourage responsible behaviour and compliance among the citizens.
Second, the permitted age for drinking liquor should be made uniform across the country and the rules should be strictly implemented by all states.
Third, tough laws should be introduced and implemented against drunken behaviour in public, domestic violence under alcohol influence, and drinking and driving.
Fourth, the government should set aside a part of the revenue earned from alcohol for social education and de-addiction efforts.
Community-based approach should be adopted to tackle the problem of alcohol and other substance abuse in the state. Community participation is the key to several prevailing social ills, including the potential of wayward youth seeking refuge in it.
It may be noted that prohibition of liquor is not the ideal solution to check overuse of alcohol and curbing its harmful impact. On the contrary, multiple studies have shown that prohibition proves counter-productive.
The policy-makers should focus on maintaining liquor quality, promoting moderation and temperance or prescribed limits in consumption of liquor.
In the context of Manipur, considering the prevalence of local brewers and local drinks, prohibition will further complicate and compound the problem, rather than help solve the many alcohol-related problems. More so, as opinion remains sharply divided between those who support lifting of prohibition and those opposing it.
An honest insight-oriented view of the Manipur picture will be - “Lifting of Prohibition will benefit”. The reality is that, despite the imposition of prohibition on alcohol, till date the state has never attained the status of complete prohibition. The state has never been able to actually stop the production and sale of alcohol, both local brew and IMFL.
Had there been no source of any alcoholic beverages in the state, the discussion would have been altogether different and quite a straight one. While there are benefits of prohibition, complications and challenges exist.
(The views expressed are personal)