Bengaluru: Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), along with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, has just won a thumping victory in Bihar’s assembly elections. Soon after being sworn in as chief minister, Kumar declared a ban on the sale of liquor from 1 April next year.

Prohibition brings with it many questions. The state government will have to consider the consequences not only to public health but also to the state’s finances and individual freedom. While the move may go down well with women voters who will support the ban, the state exchequer will also lose 5,000 crore every year.

Above all, there’s a basic question: has prohibition ever worked in this country? India’s experience with prohibition is chequered. Here’s a quick look at how nine Indian states that tried to stop drinking have fared so far.

Between the 1920s and 1930s to almost two decades after Independence, alcohol was banned in vast swathes of India. The anti-alcohol protests took its inspiration from the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Large portions of present day Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala had implemented prohibition since about 1937. In 1967 all but two of them—Mizoram and Gujarat—repealed the law.

By 1954, almost one-fourth of India was under prohibition and the central government had an April 1958 target to achieve nationwide prohibition, said a report by the justice Udayabhanu committee, which studied the effects of alcoholism in Kerala in the 1990s.

Mizoram

“Prohibition just did not work," Lalsawta, Mizoram’s finance minister, was quoted saying four days ago in an Al Jazeera television report. The northeastern state, where the majority is Christian, revoked 18 years of prohibition this January, after realising that the spread of the bootlegging industry and falling tax revenues from alcohol are issues too pressing to ignore.

The church had to roll back its resistance against lifting the ban, realising that clerics do not have popular support on the issue, said the report. Mizoram residents can now buy up to six bottles of hard liquor and 10 bottles of wine and beer every month if they have a 500 permit. In the last eight months, the sale of liquor has reached about $2.94 million, R. Lalzirliana, home and excise minister said, according to the report.

Manipur

In Manipur, the state government in 2002 partially lifted a ban enforced in 1991 owing to pressure from rebels outfits. This July, chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh tabled a bill to lift the ban completely. The reason? After 24 years of the ban, the state realised that poor quality bootlegged liquor produced in Assam is flooding Manipur, cheating the state of revenue, according to an Indian Express report.

“Manipur is unable to implement the National Food Security Act. Because of financial constraints, we are unable to provide rice to BPL families at 3 per kg,’’ said Ibobi.

Nagaland

Bootlegged alcohol from Assam and increasing financial constraints are also a worry for Nagaland, where prohibition has been in place since 1989. “We all have agreed to lift the act on the ground that Nagaland has become the ‘wettest dry state’ in the country," said Nagaland chief minister T.R. Zeliang to the Telegraph newspaper last year. Churches were not averse to the idea, except the Nagaland Baptist Church Council, which has also received a lot of criticism, it reported.

Gujarat

The birthplace of Gandhi, who pushed for prohibition in the directive principles of state policy of the Indian constitution. Gujarat has had a total alcohol ban since 1960. But as many accounts have repeatedly pointed out, this hasn’t stopped the sale and consumption of alcohol in Gujarat. Babubhai Shankerdas Patel, a 70-year-old de-addiction activist, dropped pamphlets along with plastic pouches containing alcohol at chief minister Anandiben Patel from the visitor’s gallery of the state assembly, India Today reported in March.

It’s easier to get alcohol than food in Gujarat, with home-delivered bottles often a phone call away, thanks to small local suppliers, the Hindu reported last year. Bootleggers and ordinary citizens alike, all flouted the law, a National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences study pointed out in 2013.

Andhra Pradesh And Haryana

Andhra Pradesh and Haryana are two other states that tried out prohibition for a few years. It was after large-scale protests from various groups, mainly women, that the Telugu Desam Party government declared prohibition in Andhra Pradesh in 1992. But the ban was repealed after five years, reportedly because of its financial impact.

In Haryana, the Haryana Vikas Party came to power on the plank of prohibition in 1996 and its leader Bansi Lal fulfilled the pledge soon after becoming chief minister. He had to roll it back after getting drubbed in the 1998 general elections, where his party lost eight out of its total 10 seats.

Karnataka

Karnataka, home to iconic breweries with Bengaluru its pub capital, never had to face long spells of prohibition. But since 2007, the government has banned arrack.

Kerala

The state with the highest per capita consumption of alcohol is headed for total prohibition since the current fiscal that began on 1 April. Over 700 bars and 344 state-run retail shops will be shut down, the latter in a phased manner at 10% per year. The government estimates the policy will cost the exchequer 8000-9000 crore per year, as the economy is heavily dependent on alcohol and tourism. Kerala collected a fifth of its revenue, about $1.2 billion, from alcohol taxes and fees and clocked about 25,000 crore in tourism revenue in 2013, as per budget figures.

Tamil Nadu

In 1957, chief minister of Madras province, C. Rajagopalachari, introduced prohibition in Tamil Nadu, carrying forward the legacy of prohibition in Madras presidency introduced in 1937. After two decades of a dry run, in 1971, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government under chief minister M. Karunanidhi reversed prohibition. Ever since, instead of a long-term policy, prohibition has been a political issue for arch rivals DMK and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).

DMK reinstated the ban in 1973. But after coming to power to 1977, AIADMK reversed it. In 1981, AIADMK allowed the sale of arrack and toddy. In 1987, it banned arrack and toddy. In 1990, DMK came back to power and removed the ban on arrack and toddy. A year later, AIADMK under Jayalalithaa came to power and, again, banned arrack and toddy.

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