Bihar: Political storm over liquor ban in Bihar

Amitabh Srivastava

On November 6, Bihar BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal asked the state government to review its ban policy. In fact, in separate incidents, around 30 people died in the West Champaran, Gopalganj and Samastipur districts a week before Diwali due to spurious liquor.

Faced with such a situation, it was not intentional to express concern on the part of the BJP president about the ban, but it also exposed his discomfort. After all, Jaiswal heads a party that, along with his 74 MLAs, is a senior partner in the NDA government coalition led by Nitish Kumar. “The prime minister is only a phone call away, but Jaiswal preferred to question the government publicly rather than raise his objections in private,” a JD (U) leader said in surprise.

Many people want to extract more meaning about the timing of the BJP state chairman’s comments. Indeed, Jaiswal said this shortly after the JD (U) won two seats in the recent by-elections. The confidence of Nitish Kumar’s party has increased with the victory in the by-elections. At the same time, the head of RJD, Lalu Prasad Yadav, has also rejected the idea of ​​going back to Nitish. In such a situation, the BJP has become more confident than before.

Bihar will complete a six-year ban in April 2022. Nitish Kumar kept his electoral promise after winning the 2015 assembly elections by a large margin. He had implemented a comprehensive ban on alcoholic beverages in Bihar since April 2016. On his initiative, Bihar passed the Excise Tax Amendment Act, which bans the manufacture, transportation, sale and consumption of liquor in the state.

In 2016, Nitish Kumar was in league with RJD and opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav was part of his decision as deputy minister at the time. The BJP, which was in opposition when the Bihar ban was imposed, joined Nitish in 2017 and has been sharing the ruling alliance with him ever since.

Nitish Kumar strongly supports this policy despite various criticisms. At the same time, both the BJP and RJD leaders, who have criticized this policy, have limited their objections to its implementation.

The effect of the liquor ban in Bihar has been mixed. There are implementation challenges for the police, as 21 of Bihar’s 38 districts share borders with Nepal, as well as with states such as Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal, where there is no prohibition of alcohol.

At the same time, more than 6,164 villages located in seven districts of Bihar share the border with Nepal along the 800.4 km long and open Indo-Nepal borders. Many of these have open areas of movement and are not easy to handle. Every month around two lakh people cross the 49 identified traffic points between Bihar and Nepal. Bihar cannot prevent anyone from drinking alcohol in other states or in Nepal.

Since April 2016, the Bihar police have recorded more than 2 lakh FIR and arrested around 2.12 lakh people (most of whom have been released on bail) for violating prohibition laws. But the FIRs are only part of the story.

The ban on alcoholic beverages has also had a positive effect in Bihar. According to the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey (NFHS), around 29 percent of Bihar’s population consumed alcohol. According to the 2019-20 NFHS Survey, this number has dropped to 15.5 percent. With Bihar’s population estimated at 12.48 crore in 2021, the decline in the number of alcohol users means that around one crore of people have stopped drinking in the state.

But alcohol smuggling in Bihar, at 15.5%, is still a considerable number, which explains why liquor smuggling remains a lucrative business in the state.

Meanwhile, the response to Jaiswal’s comment has been received. JD (U) National Chairman Rajiv Ranjan, aka Lalan Singh, rejected the idea of ​​revising the policy. On November 8, Nitish also did not forgive those who questioned the ban decision. Without naming anyone, the Chief Minister said that it should not be forgotten that he was also part of this decision (prohibition of alcoholic beverages).

At the same time, while speaking to India Today on November 8, Jaiswal argued that he is not against the ban. “How can you criticize the ban? All parties participated in the decision. My objection is limited to the fact that there are significant drawbacks in the implementation of the ban. There are reports that in some districts local authorities are less vigilant and, even worse, in some districts they are linked to illicit liquor dealers, I want action against them and better implementation of the policy.

On the same day, Nitish also made it clear that there will be a comprehensive review of the ban policy, but this policy will not be reconsidered in it.

In contrast, an official from the Chief Minister’s Secretariat said: “The Chief Minister will meet with his cabinet colleagues to find out how to address the gaps in the implementation mechanism and what components of the policy to address for future implementation. better way. “Required. Which parts of the policy need to be reformed to prevent deaths from alcoholic beverages and prevent people from consuming illicit liquor will also be discussed.

In 2016, when Nitish Kumar implemented the ban, he agreed to give up about 16 percent of his total revenue. In 2015-16, Bihar’s share of the excise duty in its tax revenue was set at 12.95 per cent of the state’s total revenue of Rs 30.875 crore, while only the share of domestic spirits in that tax was of 2,159 million rupees. Was. Add to this the sales tax collection figures, which stood at Rs 266 crore for field liquor in 2014-15. and Rs 780 crore from IMFL. So the cost of the ban was about 5,027 million rupees. He had to pay the tax, which was more than 16 percent of Bihar’s total income.

The Chief Minister has consistently defended the ban, noting that the money now saved by former drinkers has improved the overall well-being of Bihar families. The Chief Minister said that the liquor ban has brought about positive social change in Bihar, in addition to improving the general health and economic condition of the poor.

But the ban and lapses in its implementation have also created a parallel opportunity for criminals and corrupt individuals in the Bihar Police. So far, the state police headquarters has suspended more than 450 police officers and fired more than 70 for being found guilty or negligent in enforcing the ban.

And it has also created opportunities for politicians to settle old scores with each other. But if Nitish has agreed to a comprehensive ban review again, he will be very busy again.

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