January 3, 2023
Good morning. We wish you a very happy new year! We are back with our newsletter after a short break. As always, we look forward to bringing unbiased news to your inbox every weekday.
In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the prohibition of alcohol in Bihar will be effective. We also look at the low cotton productivity in Punjab during 2022, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
The Battle Against Bottles: Prohibition of Alcohol in Bihar
The recent hooch tragedy in Bihar, where the official death toll rose to 38, unleashed waves of criticism against the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 (BPEA). Chief Minister Nitish Kumar doubled down on his war against the bottle by refusing to compensate the victims’ families in the state assembly.
Is the liquor ban a disaster, as claimed by many, or has it done well in Bihar? The political fray remains divided on this one: the BJP, who had earlier supported the move, is now criticizing its implementation. JD(U) leader Upendra Kushwaha too, acknowledged the law’s failed implementation. Neither, however, has directly attacked the law itself.
Delivering on his campaign pledge, the Kumar-led state government in 2016 announced a blanket ban on all kinds of alcohol, including the desi tharra and vilayeti sharaab. The law was enacted on the pretext that it would reduce instances of domestic violence and other crimes in the state where women across caste and class lines have protested against alcohol consumption. In 2013, sixty women from Bihar’s Konar village launched an attack on local wine shops, spurring a recurring state-wide demand for prohibition.
The Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution of India describe prohibition as a stated goal. This means that while a liquor ban is encouraged, it is not legally enforceable, and state governments are free to formulate policies to curb its consumption. Currently, Bihar, Gujarat, Nagaland, and Mizoram are the only dry states in India.
This, however, does not mean that people in these states do not drink or that alcohol-driven social issues do not prevail here. India has a vast shadow economy sustained by organized groups and mafia lords who brew and invest in the production of poor-quality alcohol or hooch. The issue with hooch is that it is often adulterated with cheap and often dangerous substitutes like methanol. The hooch phenomenon entraps the entire country while plaguing states with prohibitive laws on a relatively more extensive scale.
States like Haryana and Tamil Nadu, which have experimented with a liquor ban in the past, had to retract when they failed to control the subsequent growth in the sale of spurious liquor. The BPEA Act may have its origins in a noble cause and even some short-term benefits – but do they outweigh its problems?
VIEW: It seems to be working
Research suggests that alcohol consumption may, directly and indirectly, affect domestic violence in low-income areas. According to women in rural Bihar and local NGOs like Jeevika, the prohibition has provoked an appreciable change in instances of gendered violence and eve-teasing. This anecdotal evidence is mirrored by official data, which notes a 37% decline in reported domestic violence cases. The BPEA act is believed to be a tactic to secure the woman vote bank for Nitish Kumar. However, if these statistics endure, the act may ensure not only reduced alcohol consumption but also successfully target a pivotal issue of women’s safety inside their homes.
Economists Abhijeet Banerjee and Esther Duflo have found that in developing countries, alcohol and tobacco feature prominently in the budgets of the poor. This is money that may be spent on attaining better nutrition or more lucrative leisurely pursuits. In India, where more than 90 percent of women participate in domestic labour and are often required to manage households on tight budgets, money spent on alcohol is perceived as an added strain on their duties. Data from the National Family Health Survey shows that alcohol consumption in Bihar has dipped from twenty-nine percent of the total population in 2015-16 to fifteen percent in 2019-20.
COUNTERVIEW: The future is a Peddler’s Paradise
The Prohibition experiment in India has largely failed in reducing alcohol-related deaths and witnessed rather insidious consequences. In 2015 the Maharashtra state government declared prohibition in the Chandrapur district, which it redacted in 2021. According to government reports, the experiment failed due to the oft-before-cited problem in implementation. During the Prohibitive period, the district witnessed a substantial increase in the production and distribution of spurious liquor and an overall increase in liquor sales. Chandrapur’s trajectory is illustrative of other prohibitive states as well. In July 2022, when 42 people in Gujarat died after consuming hooch, several media houses reported the intricate network of bootleggers and liquor dons sustained by the complicity of Police superintendents and other officers of the law. This insight from the past suggests that the well-intentioned law may solve neither the health epidemic of alcohol-related deaths nor the issue of domestic violence in the long term.
Recent statistics point to the disproportionate number of deaths among the rural and poor sections of people of India, who are more likely to consume hooch. Bihar has witnessed over 200 hooch deaths since the liquor ban was first introduced. Non-prohibitive states such as Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka too are seeing an uptick in hooch-related deaths. These numbers are telling of the deeply pervasive and extensively proliferating industry of spurious alcohol, which Prohibition laws are unable to tackle. Governments have tried and failed to implement liquor bans due to entrenched corruption at every level of law enforcement, the restricted capacity of the state, and the dominance of the local liquor mafia.
Another problem with implementing a liquor ban is the disproportionate brunt borne by the marginalized population of Bihar as opposed to the privileged. In 2017, the Jehanabad court in Bihar convicted two daily wage earners – the Manjhi brothers – for violating the liquor ban. Since then, the government’s crackdown on alcohol has led to a higher conviction rate of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes for violating the liquor law. It has also been the case that the police register more cases against poorer consumers of alcohol rather than the local lords who produce them.
According to a Risk Analysis by the Reserve Bank of India, Bihar features as a state with one of the highest fiscal vulnerabilities. In the immediate aftermath of the introduction of Prohibition, Bihar’s excise revenue dwindled from 3,124 crores in FY 2015-16 to 46 crores in FY 3016-17. In tandem, the ban has adversely affected the hospitality and trade sectors in Bihar. Political and economic analysts have conjectured that while this law has diminished the state’s excise revenue, the BPEA is positively correlated with the revenue of Bihar’s neighbouring states. Since alcohol production is under crackdown in Bihar, liquor from West Bengal and Jharkhand is often smuggled inside the state. These states have witnessed a recent growth in their excise revenue.
- Bihar hooch tragedy | Nobody can claim 100% prohibition, says Nitish Kumar – The Hindu
- Liquor ban has not been successful in Bihar: JD (U) leader Upendra Kushwaha – Business Standard
- For Bihar’s women, benefits of prohibition wane as alcoholism persists in their villages – The Caravan
- State Finances: A Risk Analysis – RBI
- The Effects of Husband’s Alcohol Consumption on Married Women in Three Low-Income Areas of Greater Mumbai – NCBI
- Gujarat hooch deaths: Which ruling forces are protecting the mafia, questions Rahul Gandhi – Scroll
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act will be effective in Bihar.
b) The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act will do more harm than good.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
What free food rations hide: A rollback of social security in India
For the Left:
Not Bharat Jodo Yatra, 2023 will be all about G20 and Modi’s Vishwa Jodo Yatra
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Low cotton productivity (Punjab) – According to initial reports, the state’s cotton productivity declined in 2022 by 45%. Data from the Punjab Agriculture Department showed average productivity of 363 kg lint per hectare. Lint is a white fibre recovered from ginned raw cotton. Experts said pests had attacked the crop, like the pink bollworm and white fly. These need to be managed by educating farmers and providing them with mitigation tools.
Why it matters: On December 22, an Inter-State Consultative and Monitoring Committee meeting took place to take stock of the pink bollworm attack on cotton crops and to review the plan for the 2023-24 Kharif season. This year, about 2.48 lakh hectares are under the cotton crop compared to 2.52 lakh last year. That’s a 1.6% decrease from last year.
Drone revolution (Tamil Nadu) – The state’s policymakers have made the right moves to establish the state as a drone hub. There are plans to build a drone-focused research park, and its aerospace policy is focused on drones. The Centre for Aerospace Research at the Madras Institute of Technology and the facilities at IIT Madras prove the state has a good foundation. The state also has supply chain advantages, precision manufacturing, with private firms making aircraft parts.
Why it matters: While Karnataka is considered India’s aerospace capital, Tamil Nadu has become more popular for drones. The use of drones by the government and private firms is expected to grow in the years ahead. Currently, drone usage is in the “creating awareness” phase for citizens and the private sector. Businesses in South India are more open to using drones, with the agricultural sector in particular.
Protest over Jain site (Jharkhand) – Protests erupted at the Shri Sammed Shikharji Tirth as the state government decided to turn it into an eco-tourism destination. People from the Jain community opposed the move, stating it would affect the site’s religious sanctity. They submitted a memorandum to President Murmu demanding the decision be revoked.
Why it matters: The site is one of the few holiest Jain pilgrimage sites that the community has closely guarded for years. The protests took place in other cities, including Delhi and Mumbai. A meeting of prominent leaders of the Jain community took place at the Bhuleshwar Jain Temple in Mumbai. They decided on a protest on January 4, with 1 lakh people expected to attend.
Road accidents (Goa) – The state’s southern districts have killer roads as they’ve claimed the lives of 90 people with more than 200 injuries. According to the police, 60% of the accidents, including deaths, involved people between the ages of 20 and 50. Of the 90 deaths, 38 were reported in the Salcete taluka in the Margao Police Station jurisdiction.
Why it matters: The police drive against drunk and rash driving had little to no impact. While it has resulted in better road sense and some discipline, it hasn’t stopped fatalities. After last July’s fatal road accident on the old Zuari Bridge that killed four people, the police stepped up its campaign against traffic violations.
Concern over hydro project (Arunachal Pradesh) – Indigenous communities living downstream of the Dibang Multipurpose Project and the proposed Etalin Hydropower Project have voiced opposition, citing a 2016 study of the sub-basin in the Brahmaputra Valley. They said it doesn’t include an impact assessment of the areas immediately downstream, like the Lower Dibang Valley district. The study was accepted by the environment ministry and is consulting the Centre on the 3,097 MW Etalin Hydropower Project.
Why it matters: There are 18 hydro projects proposed for the Dibang basin. Most of them are in different stages of planning and development. During the monsoon, there’ll be discharge in the Brahmaputra River. The project will involve the felling of more than 2.8 lakh trees. Last month, the environment ministry wrote to the state asking for its view on the Etalin Hydroelectric Project. Conservationists and indigenous people have been critical of the proposal.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
3.5 lakh – Indians really like their biryani. On December 31, Swiggy delivered more than 3.5 lakh biryanis.