Is Nitish legalizing prohibition or bootlegging?

Last Updated: Mon, Nov 30, 2015 12:20 hrs

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's decision to enforce Prohibition (banning alcohol) from April 1, 2016 could be a grade one disaster for the State, more so since Jungle Raj has already begun. When even developed countries have struggled with Prohibition, then what hope is there for a backward State like Bihar?

A case in the point is the mighty United States of America. Prohibition was imposed from 1920 to 1933 and those were disastrous years for the US. It all started with people hiding alcohol bottles in their 'boot legs' (in their boots concealed by trouser legs) and bootlegging became synonymous with illegal alcohol trade.

Bootlegging became a huge and lucrative industry and one of the most famous gangsters from the Prohibition era is the notorious Al Capone. Genuine workers in the alcohol industry lost their jobs aggravated the Great Depression while bootleggers flourished and made good black money.

Back home in India, Congress leader Morarji Desai invoked Prohibition in the name of Mahatma Gandhi and that also led to a flourishing bootlegging industry. People have been drinking on the sly in Gujarat for decades now.

In fact you may have not heard of Jogindar Sharma, who could be called the Al Capone of Gujarat. When he was arrested, one media house reported that his daily turnover for illegal liquor was Rs 60 lakh!

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was known for his administrative and governance skills in Gujarat. But as Chief Minister he neither could he think of lifting Prohibition nor could he manage to eradicate bootlegging.

(In fact there is something called a liquor permit in Gujarat which benefits the elite, NRIs and even foreigners.)

But the biggest negative impact of Prohibition is that the alcohol that is produced is not regulated and leads to deaths on a regular basis. It happens all the time but catches headlines only when the death toll is high.

In the infamous incident in Gujarat in 2009, bootlegged alcohol led to the death of 136 with hundreds of others being hospitalized. At that time the Opposition had demanded the resignation of Modi while liquor baron Vijay Mallya called for the lifting of Prohibition.

Prohibition was also introduced in Kerala in 2014, but that is a bit of a joke. Toddy shops continue to function as normal. (For those who don't know, toddy is a mild alcohol also referred to as palm wine)

Five star hotels continue to serve alcohols and wine in churches are allowed. This 'partial' Prohibition shows how impractical the whole concept is.

Now coming to Bihar, it could be even more disastrous. If the above is the situation in well governed States, can you imagine the situation in Jungle Raj? Bootleggers will flourish and nobody will be able to stop them.

Police may only watch on helplessly and criminals might turn bootlegging into an art form. We could well have extreme bootlegging in Bihar! Another problem with Bihar is its total lack of other industries.

Now with Lalu Prasad Yadav back at the helm, all the big corporate houses of India will avoid Bihar like the plague. Kidnapping became an industry in Bihar when the RJD ruled for 15 years and with the return of Lalu could bootlegging emerge as a vast empire too?

The economy abhors a vacuum and if there isn't a regular industry then the space will be filled by black money industries. Employment is a problem with Bihar so what will happen with those legally involved with the sale and distribution of liquor?

Like America, the legal workers will lose their jobs and bootleggers will flourish.

While everyone talks of N Chandrababu Naidu's IT revolution in Andhra Pradesh a little known fact is that tax revenues from alcohol shot up after he lifted Prohibition in the State in 1997. Some held that it was this and not IT that saved government coffers!

Prohibition is other States like Nagaland Manipur can be described as partial at best. Now there is also talk of imposing Prohibition in Maharashtra which could also be equally disastrous.

It looks like Nitish is planning to play a bad April Fool's joke on the people of Bihar in 2016! While banning alcohol seems to be a noble thing the problem is that you really can't do it and you merely convert a white industry to a black and that leads to dozens of others problems!

Prohibition is not the solution but an even greater problem!