By Col I S Chanam, Retd
Prohibition of consumption of alcohol in Manipur has been going on for the past several years till now. The question is …has the prohibition been effective and successful? Has consumption of alcohol been stopped altogether or reduced? And, is there any place in the state where alcohol is not available and sold?
Assam state, during 1989-90 was under prohibition and Meghalaya was not. Jorabat is a place at the border between Assam and Meghalaya. This place falls along the bus route from Manipur/Nagaland to Shillong. At this place,IMFL (Indian made foreign liquor) at low prices, with less tax from Meghalaya government was sold on the Meghalaya side of the border, in abundance .It was a big market for sale of IMFL. Travellers from Manipur in the bus halted at this place and filled their suitcases with IMFL bottles. People from Assam drove down that 9 km from Guwahati to Jorabat,to store up their personal stock of IMFL.
Assam government realised the futility of prohibition. Prohibition failed. Along with that, the state realised the colossal loss of revenue. Prohibition was subsequently lifted. Assam Excise Minister, Shri Parimal Suklabaidya said,”The step was not to encourage drinking but to increase the revenue of the state”.
After lifting prohibition also, still smuggling of liquor from neighbouring states continued as the tax on liquor in Assam was higher. 30% of liquor consumed in 9 districts of Upper Assam was found to have been smuggled into Assam from Arunachal Pradesh. Accordingly excise tax was reviewed and reduced. Licence fee got reduced from 30 lakh to 5 lakh for wholesalers and 3 lakh to 1 lakh for retailers. The result was amazing. The revenue increased by 21%. His target was to increase the revenue to around Rs1400/- crore . In 2015-16 the revenue was Rs799.53 crore only.
Who are the alcohol consumers in Manipur? How many of the VIPs in the state are teetotallers, non-drinkers? What is the meaning of prohibition, a pretention? Beside local products, all brands of IMFL are available in Manipur, though at more than double the price at mainland India. Beer costs more than three times.
The Liquor Prohibition Act 1991 spared Schedule castes and Scheduled Tribes communities from prohibition of brewing liquor on the grounds of tradition and usage of liquor inseparable during religious rituals. Then where from is the local liquor coming to every nook and corner of Manipur? What is being brewed by them is for consumption by them alone? A big question!
Beside Sikkim, there was no distillery in the North Eastern states earlier. Now the picture is different.
Assam has joined in the map of manufacturing premium Indian liquor. Radiant Manufacturers Private Limited has established its factory at Khatkhati, Karbi Along in Assam, very close to Dimapur, Nagaland. It has two bottling plants, one at Khatkhati and another at Amingaon. Both these places together can bottle 2 lakh cases per month, if run 7 days a week. Production capacity at Khatkhati is 50,000 litres per day. It has a 2 MW power plant of its own to power the factory.
Radiant Manufacturers Pvt Ltd is working with active involvement of renowned master distiller & whisky exporter, John Macdongall from Scotland. The company has come out with a rare brand of whisky ‘Castle Hill’ considered to be one of the finest brands. The company has franchise rights for manufacture of the popular brand rum ‘Old Monk’ in Assam and is bottling 40,000 cases of ‘Old Monk’ per month.
The alcohols being brewed locally in Manipur are not inferior in quality. If only they are subjected to some kind of official monitoring and quality assurance, they will be a good source of marketing outside the state as well. If suitable industry is established in Manipur to produce, package and export the local brews, It will generate employment and income to a large number of inhabitants of the state. Not only the people employed in the factory, a number of people will find employment in allied jobs, like small shops, food joints around the factory and for transportation services.
Liquor of various brands is pouring into Manipur from Myanmar, via Moreh and from Khatkhati via Dimapur/Mao. Prohibition has created a big black market world of alcohol in Manipur. People with big purses are doing a roaring business in sale of liquor and accumulating crores of rupees. The law enforcing authorities and local groups trying to enforce prohibition are able to deal with only small time and lowly, unemployed people endeavouring to earn livelihood.
Therefore, what is the sum total effect and relevance of prohibition? Is the purpose served truly? If not, what will be the correct action to follow?
Rather than prohibition, prevention of alcohol abuse by creating awareness of its bad effects is what is needed. This creation of awareness must be started at school level by incorporating it in the school syllabus. Alcohol has certain good effects as well. Various journals recommend the usefulness of taking alcohol in controlled and limited quantities. Alcohol cannot be classified as entirely evil.
Prohibition has failed. Prohibition has served only to enhance the wide spread attraction for alcohol.
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