Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had brooded over the idea of total prohibition as in Gujarat and Bihar but didn’t go for it, as he apparently considered the loss of Rs 7,500 crore revenue and the possibility of creating a parallel illicit drug and liquor trade.
Instead, his government has settled for some bizarre steps such as identifying habitual alcoholics and sending them to a rehab centre or a hospital.
Chouhan has sent teams to Bihar and Gujarat to study their prohibition models. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar had underlined the importance of liquor ban in the present scenario at a rally last year and even the RSS seems to have seconded a total prohibition.
Officials in the know said the state government’s decision was based on fears of breakout of drug menace as in Punjab.
In Bihar and Gujarat, illegal brewing and smuggling of liquor from other states are going on with impunity, sources said.
Along Uttar Pradesh’s border with Bihar, several liquor shops have sprouted whereas smuggling of liquor from Madhya Pradesh to Gujarat through Jhabua and Alirajpur is a well-known secret.
Recently, in Gujarat a good number of people were arrested during a raid which saw seizure of a huge quantity of liquor, said an official on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak on the subject.
What also played an important role in the state government’s decision against prohibition was a similar ban having been withdrawn within a short span in India and abroad.
In Haryana, the then chief minister Chaudhary Bansi Lal had imposed a total ban on liquor but the order had to be withdrawn after about 21 months. In a developed country like US, prohibition had to be lifted after over a decade in the last century.
Total prohibition, as a phrase, sounds good, but in reality it is difficult to enforce, official sources pointed out, adding that there are also several problems which crop up consequent to the decision.
Finance minister Jayant Malaiya too admitted that total prohibition was a difficult task.
In a guarded response—without naming Punjab and Gujarat for obvious reasons, he said, “Revenue is not a reason. In fact, it’s not an easy task (imposing total prohibition). At least this financial year the new excise policy is there.”
“We will have to think of other consequences like a possible rise in drug addictions because of this. And dry drugs can do more damage to the society than a few liquor shops,” he explained.
Instead of prohibition, the state government has chalked out an “elaborate plan” to create awareness against the sale and consumption of liquor which includes seminars, promoting yoga and educating children about ill impacts of liquor besides posting warnings on liquor bottles.
A few days back, chief minister Chouhan announced closure of all liquor shops within 5 km of Narmada river. Chouhan is presently leading a Narmada Seva Yatra.
To identify habitual drinkers, liquor shops are mandated to keep a list of their customers.
Indo-European Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Anuradha Singhai, who has been a part of the anti-liquor campaign in the state, agreed that total prohibition is a contentious issue. She urged the government to at least ensure that liquor is beyond the “easy reach of weaker sections”.
As per WHO’s global status report in 2014 on alcohol and health, approximately 3.3 million deaths every year or 5.9% of all deaths and 5.1% of the global burden of disease were attributed to alcohol consumption.
As per national family health survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4), as many as 29.6% of men and 1.6% of women consume alcohol in Madhya Pradesh.