Prohibition policy in Gujarat — a tragic farce?

July 12, 2009

More than 130 people died after consuming bootleg liquor in Gujarat last week.

While prohibition is in place in Gujarat, liquor is often smuggled in from neighbouring states and people are forced to buy it at inflated prices.

What can the poor do? They cannot afford to buy branded alcohol so they consume illicit liquor. Plastic pouches called ‘potlis’ of illegally brewed liquor are available for as little as ten rupees.

Some have said that Gujarat’s prohibition policy encourages bootlegging. Liquor baron Vijay Mallya argues that apart from loss of revenue this leads to “illegal, unhygienic and unsupervised production of deadly cocktails which claim innocent lives.”

During the Great Depression, the ‘Noble Experiment’ prohibition policy in the United States was repealed just 14 years after the sale of alcohol was banned.

An article in the Foreign Policy magazine, a couple of years ago, argued:

“A ‘drug-free world,’ which the United Nations describes as a realistic goal, is no more attainable than an ‘alcohol-free world’ – and no one has talked about that with a straight face since the repeal of Prohibition in the United States in 1933.”

In the context of legalising use of marijuana, author and journalist Christopher Hitchens argues that:

“It’s beyond the competence of the state to decide a question like this. You can’t hope the government to go out and control what substance somebody puts in their own body. So even if I thought that marijuana was poisonous I would still say the government is not going to be able to stop it, so it shouldn’t try.”

In the 1990s, Andhra Pradesh took up and abandoned the prohibition policy in less than two years.

“Despite our best efforts, the prohibition-related offences, particularly illicit distillation and smuggling, have been steadily increasing in the state,” the state Excise minister said when the ban was being lifted.

In New Delhi, you have to be above twenty-five years of age to be legally served alcohol in a bar.

I have been occasionally asked for identification but have got away with a little bit of bluster. I am well over twenty-five but bartenders have no means of confirming it if

I refuse to produce proof of my age.

The age policy is routinely flouted.

In Gujarat, the more resourceful “get a medical certificate from a designated civil surgeon, who prescribes a dose of liquor necessary for curing an ailment.”

The Constitution mandates in Part Four (carrying the legally unenforceable provisions which ideally should be enforced by governments):

“To bring about the prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs that are injurious to health.”

If banning alcohol puts people in the way of more harmful drinks, then is the government fulfilling the constitutional mandate?


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Forcing people not to drink by banning alcohol is not right. A more awareness based campaign or approach should be used. The government should try using its brain to influence people than using its muscle/power.

The government if it bans alcohol, it is also responsible for checking the same trafficked from other place.

On the other hand, the individual is responsible for what he/she knowingly takes in and not the government.

Posted by Krishna | Report as abusive

When is Indian GOV going to learn? Prohibition never works. They tried it in the USA back in the days too. The best course of action is that they lift a Ban on alcohol. Plus this is a double standard. It makes no sense to Ban Alcohol and allow sale of tobacco products. India is not an Islamic nation, it’s a secular democracy and each adult should be able to decide if they want to drink or not. This is a personal choice. The 25 year age limit in places like New Delhi is “Unconstitutional”. If you can vote and 18, join the army and kill terrorist in Kashmir at 18 the who the hell has the right to tell you that you cannot drink at 18! Makes no sense.

I am sure if someone takes it to the Supreme Court it will be overturned.

The reason all these people die is because they will drink regardless of a Ban and find a way to get it. Unfortunately they will by illegal stuff and we see the results of it, it has cost 140 lives! It’s too heavy price to pay for drinking in a non Islamic nation.

Posted by Kash | Report as abusive

Hello, The other posters are right, Prohibition was a joke in the U.S. – all it did was provide a way for several families at the time to make BIG BUCKS. The Kennedy family was probably the most famous to make millions – President Kennedy’s father. Being on the other side of the world, I was surprised anyone still did this. The point about the 18-year-old not being allowed to drink, many here say the same thing. Old enough to vote, sign a legal contract, drive a car, go to war – but not old enough to buy a beer?? Seems silly. (The U.S. had a lot of trouble with people, especially youth, driving drunk.) Those poor people stuck drinking homemade alcohol and dying, how awful. (Making “moonshine” to sell, often corn whiskey, is illegal still here.)

Posted by Michele | Report as abusive

Dear Vipul,
Insightful article, but how could you end this menace. It is not on the part of the poor people, who take liquors. It is completely on the part of government to take direct responsibility for the illicit sale of spurious liquors resulting in the death of more than 130 poor people.
It is certainly not the first case in Gujarat, where “Sale of Liquor” is prohibited, but on many occasions, hooch deaths had made headlines in the newspaper.
The government describing its achievements in the name of Vibrant Gujarat, are not serious towards their main objective to secure the welfare and life of its people.

Do engage yourself in raising questions on these issues.

Very Truly Yours

Balendu Priyadarshan

Posted by Balendu Priyadarshan | Report as abusive

This was started by the late Morarji Desai and carried on for so may decades. What Vijay Mallya said is right “this leads to illegal, unhygienic and unsupervised production of deadly cocktails which claim innocent lives.”

Posted by Joe Zach | Report as abusive

the fear to loose in social context is much higher,alcohol has a surreptitious quality with a notion to inflate psudo masochism, as a result it wd harm d social fabric in a larger canwas.tommorrow u will see there is no garba as wellas court will found enormous no. of cases regarding domestic voilence.

Posted by hm.s boraj | Report as abusive

I am not sure if it is lack of branded options that drives poor people to hooch (illegal/desi liquor); in fact, it is lack of money.

These people belong to the lowest strata of the society and barely manage to make ends meet. They resort to hooch because that is apparently the only way they can afford to indulge themselves. A ten-rupee bottle bought from wages at the end of a hard day’s work is often a substitute for dinner. What makes us think that they will spend Rs. 75-100 on a bottle of branded beer, which is often more than their daily wages.

Hence, legalizing alcohol will have little effect on this worst-affected socio-economic section. But, it will certainly be welcomed by both – the more well-off class which will save that premium on smuggling and the branded beer barons which will see their revenues zoom. And hence all the media propaganda around the issue.

Posted by Rath | Report as abusive

Banning Alcohol consumption would not solve the problem. As said, it paves in way for smuggling and more illegal sale of alcohol. A better approach like awareness program should be taken.

There should a age limit for people being served alcohol and if not 25, 21 should be age limit.

Posted by Avinash | Report as abusive

Prohibition is absolutely a joke. It did not work in the US, did not work in other parts of India and will never work in Gujarat. However, the blame does not lie solely on the poor in this case, because even if liquor was made available via legal means, they cannot afford to buy it and hence the market for the illict 10 rupee pouches etc. What will work (in the absence of prohibition) is tough laws and 10-yr imprisonment for anyone found selling the illicit liquor. No exceptions, no grace period….if that does not work, hang them !!

Posted by Sandeep | Report as abusive

Everything everybody has said here is right, but the question is what are we doing about it and that includes me as well.

Vicariously I live while the whole world dies.

Posted by Adi | Report as abusive

“Mr. Mallya” is advertising his brand on this people’s deaths. So, what are you saying is that if people lost their lives then lift the ban so they will not!!!!?? Have ever thought about putting drug instead of alcohol in this blog??

Many authors have posted many blog in favor of lifting ban(recently I have read blog on Times of India). WHY?? Just because police didnt take action does that mean that law should be lifted? HIT THE BRIBERY NOT PROHIBITION.

People died are poor. Poor people are not going to afford “Mr. Mallya’s” brand alcohol anyway. They will have to stay on cheap stuff. Everyone wants to follow U.S. R U SURE, think about it……

Posted by Hardik Patel | Report as abusive

Cheap liquor does not necessarily mean it has to be ‘branded’, It can be cheap but legally produced with some minimum quality checks enforced.
And one way of reducing bribery and what i consider to be the more efficient and smart way is by reducing the occasions for seeking bribes, which can be done by de-criminalising activities which the state will never have the resources to monitor or prevent– liquor consumption being one such.
But how does the Gujarat government chose to respond? By bringing back the “Prohibition police” which was disbanded in the first place because of man power problems.

More of the same!

Posted by Vipul | Report as abusive

Cheap liquor doesn’t mean people will buy branded one. They will buy the same one they are currently buying. “Even in mumbai on 28 dec 2008 37 people die after consuming liquor, where it is not banned”. So removing the ban is not the solution. It will hit the image of “safe Gujarat”.
Currently a lady can travel alone in the streets of Gujarat in late night peacefully.
It is better to capture the guys involved in this illegal business and give them heavy punishment. And educate the person who are going to such shops.

Posted by Rinil | Report as abusive

Ban Alcohol All over India, Then we are talking to make Gujrat Alcohol Free. I am more than positive that without Police and Political Support the Illicit Trade of Alcohol will not Boom. Politicians and Police turn blind eye to this form of trade and paid their share to keep their mouth shut. If 130 people would not have died we would have not know about this? Also the alcohol is freely available in neighboring states, there are many accidents happening when people are travelling to neighboring states to consume alcohol and coming back driving in a drunken state. Do your Job Honestly or Lift the Prohibition to avoid any further tragedies?

Posted by Sameer | Report as abusive

if you want to know what prohibition produces one just has to go back and see what it did to USA in the early 1900s. prohibition not only didn’t do any good but created the MAFIA along with a lot of bootlegging millionaires. one should study American history. one does not encourage dishonesty or lying and a lot of other things. but are we going to create laws that will rectify all the evils that human beings have? prohibition must be made away with regardless of what the religious people say because they just don’t know history. goa is one state in india where alcohol is freely available. but goa is not a state of drunkards.See?

Posted by jacob a | Report as abusive

Many blogger are associating hooch deaths with prohibition. They provide examples of failed prohibition in US.

The fact is that even in states where there is no prohibition, hooch deaths occur. It has little to do with prohibition

“Earlier this year, at least 180 people died in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This was the worst bootleg liquor tragedy India had ever experienced. : Asia/1.235395.1.html

Posted by chirkut | Report as abusive

It is funny how people outside Gujarat comment about Prohibition policy here. They have no clue about the benefits of such a policy and how it has worked here for decades. Hooch can’t be linked ever to prohibition coz it will exist with or without prohibition. I would request everyone to make a statement after staying here for some months and realizing the benefits, rather than cribbing about the lack of it.

To get a different perspective to the whole issue, kindly read this article:

Posted by Startonomics | Report as abusive

Kash, It’s not the “Indian GOV”. It’s the Gujarat State Govt.

Posted by Shaan | Report as abusive

People living outside Gujarat, without having feel of ground reality should not comment loosely. And try to bring a negative revolution of lifting the ban of liquor. Instead, they should see how we can control such things from happening.

If a group of people stands and vote that liquor should be banned accross all the states. Group of people wanting to lift the ban would call them either crazy, mad or what not. Similar feelings, mass people of Gujarat would have for people wanting to lift the ban. Always there are exceptions to any system or process. For that you cannot rule out wider benefits that mass gets. LIQUOR tycoons are looking at big business opportunities in this land, so they encourage lifting the ban.
Everything cannot be evaluated at economic growth or leisure. But, there is something called “CULTURE”, which we should try to respect and preserve. After all the richness of human race comes from that. Otherwise, we all are animals.

Posted by Statistician | Report as abusive

Startonomics & Chirkut

Agree with your opinions
Back in 80s, in Andhra, an ordinance was implemented and the liquor shops were closed by 11pm daily. The result was obvious. The road accident rate fell dramatically that the teaching govt hospitals were pleasantly surprised. Its true that when I visited family in Gujarat few yrs ago, we didn’t drink wine but , hey, who cares.
Liquor poisoning occurred even in govt run liquor outlets elsewhere. Gandhis state should continue its dry policy. Baron Mallya wants business expansion as we all can see. Even in USA there are some dry towns. Eg. Searcy in Arkansas State. There may be others. Iam not suggesting all states should implement dry law. All Im saying is that Modi, as a committed leader, should continue policies that he thinks are right for his home state.
Even in a fundamentalist country like Iran where alcohol consumption is illegal, people brew it at home using grapes etc. and make it very good too. Like you said people still drink in dry state but discretely within the safety of home environment, which will in turn cut down traffic accidents and excessiveness. By law, all liquor shops should be shut down by 1100 PM daily in wet states. Who is thinking? Politicians are running liquor business in every state. Not in Gujarat I subsume.

Posted by azad | Report as abusive

Dear all,

After reading the above news, I request you to go in to the depth.

Easy avalability of liquor is not the solution of problem.

Everybody is bound to obey the rules set by government. Once a learned people know that robbery is crime even, signal jumping is wrong, We always try to follow the rules set by govt.

Then why? people dont obey the regulation of dry state. For a poor person priority should be two time meal, education to child, saving, etc…. NOT two time liquor.

dear reporter/news editor I request you to use your brains before such bogus report.

Thank you.

Posted by manan | Report as abusive

I don’t understand the logic. How removing the ban and selling quality alcohol at high price legally is going to stop poor people from buying cheap non-healthy alcohol ?

I mean you are solving wrong problem with wrong solution :) Vijay Mallya is a businessman, he can say anything to promote his business. People of gujarat have never shown interest in making it legal neither there is a discussion on it for so many years. Solution is not making it legal, solution is to find “those who makes such” poison in name of alcohol.

Posted by hp | Report as abusive

It is pathetic that liquor tycoons are finding business while more than 100 people fell to the death. Linking the liquor tragedy with prohibition is foolishness. Beuase these types of tragedy occured even in other southern states, even though they didn’t have a prohibition.

By banning the prohibition, it will create only good business ground for liquor products, but not stops death.

Posted by Azhar Ahamed – Indian Blogger | Report as abusive

well i truly feel that prohibition should be lifted as soon as serves no has failed in other states of india.

it is obvious when u put prohibition on something it attracts people more,moreover goverment officials are hand in gloves with the smugglers,which results in the increase of price of is a prohibition just in a name and its futile.

instead of educating people about its ill effects and teaching them to have it in small quantity,govt. imposes prohibition.people have been drinking since time immemorial and will continue to do so.

state should ensure the quality of liquor which is being made available to its one is paying heed towards it.

Posted by kamna | Report as abusive

Easy availability of liquor is obviously not a solution to the problem. I dont think this article even gives a slightest hint of that. It questions the authenticity of the prohibition and the efficiency of the government implementing it.

Posted by Happy | Report as abusive

i am in gujarat since last 15 years,liquor ban is the biggest insult any sane man who associates it with mahatma Gandhi’s principles.bottled liquor smuggled in from adjoining states and sold at more than twice its daru is available becomes obvious that the state govt. officials who are involved in regulating the ban are filling up their pockets instead of the money going to state as,women children involve themselves in manufacturing,selling liqour,it gets them good income.In a way gujarat is teaching its citizens to be cheats and law breakers,to use the system as per their needs.if Gandhiji would have lived in todays age instead of imposing his values on the people,he might have made attempts to evole better social standerds,ethics,morals so that gujarat have strong social values that in a way would regulate misbehaviour of people

Posted by jags | Report as abusive RI

you will not have to look further, finally a few citizens have taken an initiative to set things in order. Its high time people start doing things which they should be doing.

Posted by raj7211 | Report as abusive

Is there no way to control country liquor.we r so helpless that we have ban it instead controlling it in a efficient manner,by which tax can be collected without any deaths.

Posted by munna1312 | Report as abusive