A prominent Gandhian in Patna has joined growing protests against the Bihar government's new liquor policy that allows alcohol vends to be opened every eight kilometres across the state.
Sushila Sahay, a former minister and a Gandhian, is the latest to voice opposition to the plan. A prominent Muslim body has also objected to it, saying it will harm poor people and youngsters in particular.
Sahay has surrendered her pension and offered to refund the entire amount she has been paid since 1980 in protest. Sahay, who is in her 60s, is the first political leader in the state to openly oppose the policy.
In a two-page letter to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, she has written that if the new liquor policy is really aimed at revenue generation to meet development expenditure, she in her own way would try to reduce the burden on the exchequer by surrendering her pension.
Sahay advised Nitish Kumar to emulate his mentor, the late Karpoori Thakur, who had introduced prohibition during his second tenure as the state chief minister in 1977.
The state government introduced the new policy this month to generate revenue worth Rs 7 billion annually. It will allow the opening of licensed liquor shops at every eight kilometres throughout the state and a reduction in the fee for opening beer bars and factories.
It will also permit the sale of liquor at dhabas or roadside eateries along national highways.
Earlier another Gandhian had voiced concern over the government's new policy. "It was shocking that the government decided to ensure liquor sale at the panchayat level and residential areas," said Akhtar Hussain, a Gandhian.
The Imarat Shariah, a social and Muslim religious body at Phulwarisharief near Patna, has said the new policy will encourage the sale of liquor and create social problems.
"The Bihar government's new liquor policy is totally against the preaching of Mahatma Gandhi who was for a total ban," said Maulana Syed Nizamuddin, the chief of Imarat Shariah.
The Imarat Shariah enjoys a large following among Muslims in Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa and its stand could derail the new policy.
Nizamuddin, who is also a general secretary in the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said the sale of liquor at common places would take a toll on poor people, students and labourers.
"More sale of liquor will result in an increase in crimes against women," he said.
A social front called Akhil Bhartiya Apradh Virodhi Morcha staged a demonstration here to protest against the policy. Dozens of activists took part in the procession with placards.