Elahiganj in Murshidabad district has become the first village in Bengal to ban sale and consumption of alcohol and narcotics within its limits and impose a stiff fine for those flouting the rule.
About 6,000 residents of Elahiganj, about 215 km north of Kolkata, decided to crack down on the sale and consumption of alcohol after six people died after consumed hooch in Galsi of neighbouring Burdwan district in January.
The villagers formed a committee of 80 people that took the decision to implement the ban in the first week of January. The decision was announced from the mosques over loudspeakers and no one raised any objection.
“We have successfully turned our village into an alcohol and drug-free one for the past one month. Several residents of the village who were alcoholics have lost everything and a year ago a youth of the village was killed during a drunken brawl. So, most villagers were in favour of the ban,” Mohammad Nur Amin, a cleric, said.
“We have decided to impose a fine Rs 2,000 from anyone consuming alcohol, or hooch, in Elahiganj. If anybody dares to sell alcohol he has to pay a fine of Rs 5,000,” Amin added.
Interestingly, the decision of the villagers runs counter to the policy of the state government. Desperate to milk more revenue from the sale of alcohol, the cash-strapped administration has not only cut down dry days from 12 to 4.5 and extended drinking hours in bars but also has set up a company to enter the alcohol distribution business.
The alcohol market in Bengal comprises a network of around 2,000 bars (on shops) and a little over 3,000 retailers (off shops). The number of distributors stands at 104.
Following the announcement, no one has been seen consuming alcohol in the village, a common sight earlier. Only three people were caught in a drunken state and each of them was fined.
“The Rs 6,000 realised from the three has been kept with the committee. It will be used to help the poor and needy,” Syed Nurujjaman, a committee member, said.
“My husband used to consume hooch almost every day. He also beat me up for money. But he has stopped after the ban was imposed,” Fatima Bibi, a villager, said.
Several villagers told Hindustan Times that they have got support from the local police too. The police even assured of help in case of any trouble after the ban.
Elahiganj is an underdeveloped village where agriculture is the predominant economic activity.
“So far every single resident of Elahiganj has supported this initiative and some villages in the area have evinced interest to emulate us,” Emamul Haque Tuli, a member of Murshidabad-Jiaganj panchayat samiti, said.
A total ban on the sale of liquor is in force in Bihar, Gujarat, Nagaland and parts of Manipur; as well as in the Union territory of Lakshadweep. Kerala has been implementing prohibition in a phased manner since 2014.
Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Mizoram and Tamil Nadu enforced prohibition but repealed it later.