Prohibition policy in Gujarat — a tragic farce?
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During the Great Depression, the ‘Noble Experiment’ prohibition policy in the United States was repealed just 14 years after the sale of alcohol was banned.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?