Bihar has banned the consumption and sale of alcohol. This is noteworthy because the state has banned alcohol at a time when many other states earn a sizeable revenue from excise out of the sale of alcohol. In an exclusive interview with BE’s Kishore Kumar Biswas, Vijendra Prasad Yadav, Minister in Charge, Power, Excise, State Government of Bihar, spoke about the success of banning alcohol and the challenges the government faced.
Q. Why did you take such a seemingly unpopular decision like banning the consumption and sale of alcohol in Bihar ?
A. Please remember the end of 2014 when our Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar addressed a gathering where a lot of women were present. In that meeting the women requested him to ban the consumption of alcohol in the state. Alcoholism had been causing harm to the rural poor. In a large number of families, a lot of money is diverted from livelihood needs to alcohol. The drunken members also destroy family lives in different ways. You know that a large number of people in Bihar live below the poverty line (BPL). Nitish Kumarji decided if the party would win the state election, alcohol consumption and sale would be banned in the state. We did this when we were voted to form the government.
We banned it first in the rural areas and within a week there was big gathering of women in Patna demanding a similar ban in urban areas. So, we went for the complete ban of alcohol in the state. That is why it can be said that it was not an unpopular step.
Q. Can one state successfully ban alcohol consumption if other states around it don't?
A. See even Mahatma Gandhi started a movement against the British from Bihar. Gradually, it was extended over many places of the country. That means one has to take the initiative for a cause. We are doing this now and expect it will be followed by many. Already delegations have come from states like Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh. A few teams from north-eastern states also came here to study its impact on society and economy.
Q. Consumption of alcohol is related to religious rituals also, particularly, it is common in some of the festivals of adivasi and dalit communities. How have you addressed this matter without hurting religious sentiments?
A. At present, even in the festivals no one is allowed to drink alcohol. Coming to the case of adivasis or dalits, please note that we have not banned tadi making. They are to extract it and make gur or other sweets from it. These products are tasty and it has a good demand in the market. In Tamil Nadu also these are very popular products. But no tadi consumption is allowed.
Q. A large number of people were engaged in producing alcohol-related items. How have they been accommodated by your government?
A. The government is helping them by providing different opportunities to maintain their livelihood in alternative ways. The most notable is establishing women’s organisations. The government helps by giving them cows, buffaloes, funds, etc. These are given in a group form, that is, as collective responsibilities. They are also being helped in marketing their products.
Q. It is said that the ban of alcohol, family events, business conferences, etc. are shifted elsewhere. Is this happening in your state?
A. It is not so. There may be some cases but that is negligible. In the earlier days, there was a section of people who used to chose outside places for such programmes. So how can one consider it as an impact of banning?
Q. Has the ban affected the state's earnings?
A. The government earned about Rs. 5,000 crore per year from alcohol and related items. After banning we had only Rs. 1,000 crore shortfall in the financial year 2016-17. The rest we earned by enhancing VAT in some luxury items. But later we have made it up by different means to increase the revenue of the state. At present we have no deficit.
Q. What is your assessment of banning alcohol, particularly, when we come to matters like atrocities on women, crime rate, and improvement of health condition, road accidents, and family peace?
A. In all these respects, you just mentioned, improvements have been profound. I will like to give you some statistical figures as supportive documents. Some of the independent studies relating to these matters will also confirm the situation.
Q. But it is claimed that a section is regularly consuming alcohol secretly. How will you enhance vigilance?
A. Is there a country in the world where there is no crime? So, there will remain illegal activity to an extent. The target should be to minimise it.
Q. It is said that there are some laws in banning alcohol which are unnecessarily oppressive. Your views on this?
A. I now hand over the paper that shows how this has been changed recently to avoid unnecessary harassment of people. We know that otherwise an unscrupulous section of the police would take advantage of that. For example, in the earlier rule if any person at home is found to have consumed alcohol, every adult member would have been arrested. It was really unnecessary as other members may be innocent. All those rules have been changed.