Prohibition – Making out a case in support

Ranbir Singh Pathania
J&K Government has ultimately decided to re-open liquor shops. The excuse offered is that UT has suffered revenue losses worth hundreds of crores during lockdown.
But the lead, million-dollar question remains, if revenue losses can be a substitute for social peace, economic prosperity and better health of the subjects?
I vividly remember the address of Smt. Pratibha Devi Singh Patil, the then President of India on International Women’s Day 0n 8th March, 2010, “I am all praise for brave women hailing from a far flung village, Ghordi, of Tehsil Ramnagar in J&K for initiating a struggle and then ultimately succeeding in getting closed a wine shop in the area”. The women of the area were much concerned about improved cases of domestic violence, crimes, road accidents and the vulnerable men squandering away their hard earned savings in Ghordi.
Background of the story could be traced back to my informal interaction with ‘Kirtan Mandli’ of local women of village Ghordi – as a start-up lawyer and a political activist – where I had sensitized and made them aware of the provision in J&K Excise Act whereby local District Magistrate had the power to close down a liquor shop.
I remember the clarion call ‘The future of our children does not lie in this red ‘nasty pouch’; and reincarnating the golden quote of Jyoti Basu with my lung power at its best, “Who say gone are the days when we were too naive an young and thought that could change everything.”
The interaction was just a spark and ultimately, Darshana Devi, the president of Kirtan Mandli, took up the bold lead and the gauntlet too, leading to unfolding of a women’s satygraha. And history was created in this less-known, obscure village with the District Magistrate coming over to the village and closing down the wine-shop.
And the same motivation inspired my way in smashing a two decades-old citadel and a vicious rigmarole of money and booz in Assembly elections in Ramnagar (J & K) 2014 whereby I won securing 45,891 votes (with a lead of 17,420 votes).
Prohibition is presently in operation in states of Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram and Nagaland as well as in the union territory of Lakshadweep.
However, the tell tale of Nitish Kumar’s introduction of total prohibition in Bihar and its further flip-flop battles in the Patna High Court as well as in Supreme Court of India have always seen see-saw debates between moral prohibitionists and libertarian anti-prohibitionists. Luckily, statistics have proved on ground that after prohibition in Bihar, crime against women, cases of domestic violence, road accidents have dipped and mud-houses are being replaced by brick houses in the country side.
Nitish Kumar was so sanguine after enacting the anti-prohibition law that he canvassed for a ‘nationwide prohibition’ while speaking at ‘Liquor Free India Campaign’ steered by voluntary organisation Milita Odisha Nisha Nibaran Abhijan and other regional organisations. He was on record to have said “Bihar has not lost anything due to prohibition. Rather it has gained”. Liquor sale revenues stand duly compensated by sales of other domestic items, less health expenditures, reduced societal tensions, etc.
Whereas, Kerala has shifted from total prohibition to piecemeal prohibition. CM Vijayan says his Government believes in restraint, not prohibition. Some hotels, bars and pubs have been allowed to serve wine with certain restrictions.
If we go by the message contained in the ‘Bhagvad Gita’, ‘Persons who are Sattvika by nature like foods that promote longevity, vitality, energy, health, happiness and cheerfulness, as also those that are juicy, soft, nourishing and agreeable.’
It is in the same vein that framers of our constitution have conceptualised and enacted Art-47 of the Constitution of India….
‘The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health’.
But the mandate of the constitutional provision seems least cared and carried by our policy makers who, till now, have kept their heads buried in the sand, whenever the issue was pushed on the carpet.
A report based on sample survey by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has held that almost 33 per cent of adult males and about 2 per cent of adult females in India area given to the hobbit of drinking. About 25 lac children in age group of 10-17 are addicted to drinking. Also, drinking in India means ‘hard drinks’ or spirits comprising 92 per cent of the total alcohol consumption over wine or beer as compared to 44 per cent which is the global average. Moreso, the amount of alcohol consumed by every drinker is 18.3 litre per year on an average, again much higher than the global average. At least 2.6 lakh deaths every year in India can be directly attributed to liver diseases, or cancer or accidents caused by excessive drinking.
Besides health, drinking entails serious socio-economic consequences. An average rural family spends about 2.5 per cent of its income on intoxicants, which may be one-eighth of its disposable income once the basic necessities are paid for. An addict could be spending anything between one-fifth to one-half of the total family income for booz. In social terms, the brunt of drinking is borne by women. Child beating and neglect, social violence, sexual abuse, family discord and break-up are some of the most obvious results of drinking.
And the lee-part of the affair remains that we lack a national perspective and a pan-India action-plan on the issue. And the ostrich-like policy makers have also preferred to fiddle as ceremoniously as Nero of Rome as yet. It still remains undecided whether we want to go for complete, partial, phased prohibition or anything else on the national level. It is not hard to imagine what might be the contours and parameters of such policy. Total prohibition is unlikely to figure there because it has proven counter-productive far too often. While it does bring drinking seriously down, it tends to encourage smuggling, liquor mafia and spurious liquor.
What we need is a national plan for gradual reduction and control of alcohol use, supplemented with innovative social campaigns to motivate people, especially disenchanting the youth gradually from the habbit of drinking.
The earlier we take wake up call, better is it – for the society, nation and the civilisation, born and bred alongside the Sindhu.
(The author is columinist practices law in the J&K High Court and was member of 11th J&K Legislative Assembly.)


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