Law Kumar Mishra
Patna : It was politics more than economics which appears to have influenced Bihar CM Nitish Kumar to suddenly impose a blanket ban on liquor and further strengthen the ban by moving amendments in the Bhar Excise Act through a Bill to be introduced during the Monsoon session of the state legislature.
And this political motivation led Nitish to campaign in Greater Noida, Lucknow, Mirzapur, Varanasi and now in Phulpur (Allahabad) in addition to his rallies in Jharkhand and Rajasthan seeking ban on liquor. Nitish is asking PM Narendra Modi to ban liquor in BJP ruled states,but did not advocate ban in AAP ruled Delhi or some Congress ruled provinces.He did suggest UP CM Akhilesh Yadav to impose ban on liquor. UP is going to elections early next year. Nitish is trying to emerge a Mahatma on liquor ban campaign. Not only the persons possessing liquor bottle,but even his neighbour would be an offender now.
During his first two innings since 2005 as the CM, Nitish had promoted liquor trade,opened shops even in rural areas, in some villages two to three liquor shop were authorised to run, invited investors in liquor business- opening new breweries and beer factories.When he took over as the CM in November 2005 for the second time, Bihar’s excise revenue was Rs 319 crore per year with promotion and incentives to liquor industry the revenue from excise increased to Rs 3, 650 crore in 2014-15 and Rs 4,400 crore in 20 15-16. There were expectations of Rs 6,000 crore excise revenue in 2016-17 .
Bihar had 6,000 country liquor shops in 8,800 village panchayats, 675 IMFL outlets in urban centres, 75 breweries run by leading liquor manufacturing companies including Diageo Plc(UK),United Breweries of Vijay Mallaya, Pernod Ricard, Molsoon Coors,a Danish company. New beer factories were being set up in the government sponsored industrial estates at Ara and Bihta ( Patna) .The foreign companies had invested Rs 1,000 crores.States;industrial investment promotion board was allowing registration of new liquor factorie almost every year since Nitish came to power for the second time in 2005. He was chief minister for seven days in 2000. A beer factory was being set up at Forbesnganj, the birth place of noted Hindi writer Phanishwar Nath Renu. Teesri Kasam,a film starring Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehan was made on Renu’s novel with Forbesganj in the background.
Bihar state Beverages Corporation, a state undertaking, also got itself engaged in liquor business by opening its retail outlets in the villages. The CM used to defend government promoting liquor business by telling the money earned from liquor trade helped the state to supply free uniforms and free text books and cycles to the school going children.
It was the sudden decision of Nitish to impose first a partial ban on liquor by ordering closure of country liquor shops in the villages from April 1,2016. On April 5, at 5 pm while addressing a press conference giving details of modalities of enforcement of ban, Nitish said women are demanding ban on foreign made liquor trade too and declared with immediate effect, there will be a total ban. Suddenly, the police and excise officials rushed to the liquor shops under their jurisdictions, sealed them by mid-night of April 5. Over 10,000 people engaged in liquor outlets became jobless by midnight. Ban had subsidiary effect too, as transporters, small time egg sellers, snacks vendors near the liquor shops, waiters in bars, clubs and hotels became jobless with one decision of the chief minister.
Hathidah(Patna ) based UB factory declared lock out rendering about 1,000 employees unemployed, who staged demonstration for few days outside the factory. Bihar’s finance minister Andul Bari Sidiqqui too admitted heavy revenue loss due to the ban. RJD president Lalu Prasad advised the CM not to impose ban on toddy liquor trade as petty villagers wer engaged in toddy tapping and its sale. Nitish, however, did not relent. Rathin Roy , noted economist and a member of the seventh Pay commission while speaking at a seminar at Patna recently said Bihar ‘s major source of revenue for the last 15 years was excise collections. Bihar government in its annual budget in 2016-17 decided to increase taxes on Samoasa and branded snacks. Roy said, “no amount of samosa tax will make up for the loss caused due to ban on liquor trade.”
The new Excise Act is being imposed strictly-be it in the air, rail, road or even in rivers as the excise and police officials have intensified patrolling in rivers through boats arresting people passing through Bihar even in premier Rajdhani trains(if carrying liquor bottles), on National highways ,at airports at Patna and Bodh Gaya.No one is spared,there is no concession for the army men and officers as their canteens supplying liquor are being monitored. Armymen travelling in trains were arrested and sent to 15 days jail. Two armymen coming to Patna with liquor in their bags by air were arrested. A team of seven members of a marriage party hosting liquor party at a prestigious hotel were arrested and sent o Beur central jail. The hotel owner and manager were also booked.
Five excise officials were arrested for violating the Act on at Mohaniya check post on UP-Bihar border, five policemen arrested and dimissed from servcie as they were found drunk on Bihar-Jharkhand border near Banka . A ruling party MLC Manorama Devi was sent to jail for possessing three bottles of IMFL at her Bodh Gaya residence. A Congress MLA Vinay verma faces cases at Pataliputra police station and Narkatiyaganj (his constitutency)as he had declared before media he had stocks of several imported brands of liquor.
The new Excise Act is tougher than the IPC. For possession of liquor, one will be in jail for ten years and a fine upto Rs ten lakh is prescribed.For deaths due to illicit liquor,the supplier and manufacturer will face death peantly.The Act has a provisoon which says even on charges of presumption that a person or group of persons will consume liquor, possess liquor,they would be arrested.
Nitish has gone on nationwide campaign for liquor ban .His police is more engaged in enforcing ban than crime control. Borders on Nepal, Jharkhand, UP and,
West Bengal are being guarded intensively,breath analysers keeping watch on the passengers in trains and roadways too. Nitish supporters claim he has emerged as God for the women in the country as they are inviting him to different parts of the nation to popularise liquor ban. Nitish too has declared his only ambition left now was to have a nationwide ban on liquor.He claims with imposition of liquor ban,crime figure has gone down,however, the ground reality is quite different.