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Diluting the law
It’s two cheers for Nitish as Bihar gets set to soften prohibition provisions
While there is no doubt that the social realities in Bihar much like in other parts of India are such that consumption of alcohol invariably leads to domestic abuse, neglect of children, and self-inflicted penury in a large number of homes, the panacea is not prohibition but awareness. That is the lesson from the world over which the Bihar State Government under Nitish Kumar has now part-learnt, at least to the extent of realising the rampant misuse of the stringent prohibition laws in the State and proposing some dilution (pun unintended) of the harshest. History is replete with examples of the failure of prohibition in India - of the nine States that have given it a go not many have stood the test of time. For instance, Mizoram revoked its prohibition laws after 18 years as the ban led to the spread of bootlegging and caused a huge loss of revenue to the State. Gujarat has had prohibition on the statute longest, given it is Mahatma Gandhi's birthplace, but easy availability and even home delivery of the tipple of your choice is the State's worst-kept secret.
In the case of Bihar, though prohibition was an election promise made by Nitish Kumar after thousands of women demanded it, the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, is draconian. The most egregious penalty was that it provided for the arrest of all adult members of a family in case liquor was found stored in their house and if found guilty all would be imprisoned for a minimum of 10 years extendable to a life term. Besides, first-time ‘offenders' were sent to jail and authorities had the power to confiscate their property in case of repeated offences. Thankfully, common sense has prevailed after two years of the miscarriages of justice as a result of the imposition of this law replete with false cases. Sensing the many drawbacks in the implementation of prohibition which has caused a massive dip in revenue and given birth to a booze mafia which smuggles in alcohol from neighbouring States, the Government it is in the process of amending some laws in the upcoming Monsoon Session of the Bihar Assembly. Improving public health should be the aim of any Government and if an adult exercising his/her individual freedom of choice chooses to drink then the smart response would be to earmark revenues that accrue to the exchequer from the sale of alcohol to such initiatives including de-addiction centres.
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