Liquor Ban In Bihar
Until 2016, according to state excise department figures, Bihar consumed almost 25 million litres of alcohol each month. In the financial year 2005-06, the state brought Rs 87.18 crores from foreign liquor made in India, which rose to Rs 1,777 crore – a 1,938% rise in 2014-15. Just before the ban, in 2014-15, Bihar made over Rs 3,100 crore from excise duty on liquor sales, according to the Economic Survey of 2016. The survey pointed out that the estimate for 2015-16 was Rs 4,000 crore. But with a win in the 2015 state assembly polls, The Janata Dal (United) led by Nitish Kumar, in alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, imposed a ban on liquor consumption and sale in the state.
Has the government tapped this hidden aspect of Liquor ban?
Despite the Bihar government’s report card on prohibition, which notes that the policy has been a success, it does not entail that the state has stopped drinking. Based on the National Family Health Survey 2019-20 report, Bihar has consumed more alcohol than Maharashtra, proving prohibition has been ineffective and led to the creation of a liquor mafia. This has also negatively affected the state’s economy and potential investments, thus affecting job creation. The state misses out on Rs. 10,000 crores in annual revenue, forcing it into debt problems. This loss has turned out to be the neighbors’ gain as liquor sales in border districts of neighboring states have gone up.
Former state revenues are now floating in the black market. In the five and a half years since prohibition, more than 4 million liters of liquor have been confiscated in Bihar. “Royal Stag whiskey and Imperial Blue whiskey are the most sold”, said a bootlegger. He further added “One box either has 48 quarters, 24 half bottles or 12 full ones. There is ample liquor sale in Bihar, helping us make Rs. 300 per box, or Rs. 60,000 per month.” The ban has paved the way for the state’s expenditure but blocked its income path.
Going by various surveys and reports of different media houses, it is evident that in the interior of the state, illicit brewing is rampant. Derogatory liquor is prepared deep in the villages. A village in Bihar produces hooch daily worth Rs 2 lakh which never counts and contributes to the state’s economy. And additionally, consumption of these hooch has resulted in hundreds of deaths in past 1 year, where districts like Nalanda, Buxar, West Champaran, Gopalganj, Samastipur and Muzaffarpur are on the top.
At the beginning of Bihar’s illegal liquor trade, there were few bootleggers, and they operated under immense caution, like: a new customer had to be referred through an old one, and “alcohol” could not be directly addressed. Those were dangerous times, but it was also the time to mint money. Bootleggers with good connections soon prospered, bringing more money and gaining trust. This provided employment opportunities for liquor store workers as well. So, what they used to do legally, now are continuing with it illegally.
It is important to realize that alcoholism is viewed as a law-and-order problem in Bihar, rather than a social problem. Rather than launching a mass awareness campaign, consulting relevant stakeholders, establishing de-addiction centers, etc., the state could have taken some time to do so. Liquor bans, however, are not the extent of the state’s responsibilities; it has to think about different segments of society.