Read the first article of this series here.
Prohibition has been rejected by even the World Health Organization as a failed effort. However, India remains one of the few countries that impose a law that is not found outside of a few Islamic countries. Indian politicians need to know that they cannot wash their hands in liquor during elections and impose a prohibition to settle with their conscience at the expense of individual freedom. Enforcement tactics deny civil liberties and violate constitutional rights.
Two States (To Learn From)
In India, alcohol is banned in Gujarat, Kerala and Nagaland. Gujarat’s prohibition act dates back to the 1960s, when the Bombay Prohibition Bill was firmly enforced across the state. As of now, while the law stipulates the death penalty for making and selling homemade liquor, there is little to stop the rich from keeping private bars stocked. Consequently, the smuggling and illegal sale of alcohol is common in the state.
Even small towns around the state of Gujarat like the Union Territory of Daman and Diu have become popular watering holes for those looking to drive across the border to get honked where there is no prohibition. Daman may have a population of just 242,911, but has 60 wine shops, around 260 bars and restaurants, and 60 hotels that serve alcohol. In 2015, there were 22.6 lakh tourists in Daman and 60% of them were from South Gujarat! In other words, Daman has become a drive-by drinking destination for Gujaratis seeking spirits.
Two hours from Surat by road, the booze is half the price of Maharashtra, thanks to the difference between state and union territory taxes. A permit can get you just two bottles and they cannot be taken across the Gujarat state border. It’s odd that there’s a Government of Gujarat liquor shop in Daman selling the same Gujaratis the booze they are denied in their home state. Weekend earnings of each of the 60 odd liquor shops are in the range of Rs.4 to 5 lakhs.
In 2014, Kerala announced a partial ban on the sale of alcohol. The long term goal was total prohibition in 10 years. Before the ban, this tourist paradise boasted the highest per capita consumption of alcohol. In the initial period, everyone from the church to the Muslim league was all in favor. To protest was to be one of the dastardly foes of wholesome cultural values. Overnight. 20,000 people lost their jobs. It just so happened that 22% of Kerala’s revenue came from excise duties on alcohol. Subsequently, another 26% of revenue from tourism was adversely impacted. Exactly 50% of existing convention bookings were canceled on hearing the news. Given a choice between Mangalore with a liquor ban imposed and neighboring Bangalore with its umpteen pubs and bars, guess where the Indian IT professionals chose to make into India’s Silicon Valley? Meanwhile, Kerala’s loss was also Tamil Nadu’s gain as the state alcoholic beverages corporation, TASMAC, promptly opened a string of new outlets along the border of the two states to greet thirsty Keralites with open arms.
In 2016, the present Chief Minister of Kerala has admitted that a total ban on alcohol is not possible and the next bright idea is to use Aadhar cards to ration alcohol with a maximum quota permissible to each individual of 14 units. The purported reason given by the state’s government is that it wants to promote healthy living in the state.
In the next part of this article, we shall look at the biggest lesson Kerala refuses to learn from.
Read the next article of this series here.