A brief history of prohibition in India

BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have declared that they will enforce prohibition of alcohol, but albeit in a phased manner. There is not timeline yet for implementing the ban in both the states. Thus, as of now, none of the BJP ruled states have introduced total prohibition during its tenure. Total prohibition of alcohol, commonly called prohibition, makes manufacturing, consumption, possession, purchase, sale, transport, import and export of alcohol an illegal act.

However, state governments ruled by Congress to socialist parties to caste centric Lohiate parties have enforced near total prohibition. Prohibition has become a tried and tested measure with some government introduced it and later another repealed it. The Church has been a major player in the protest movements against the repeal of prohibition.

India too has a long history of various states experimenting with various laws on liquor, ranging from total prohibition to restricted sale of alcohol to phased closure of liquor shops.

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As liquor contributes sizeable revenue to the exchequer, it has never been an easy decision for any state government to impose the prohibition. Moreover, there is widespread smuggling and illegal sale of liquors in the states where prohibition are imposed, thus defeating the very purpose. Presently, there are four states – Bihar, Gujarat, Nagaland and Mizoram – and the Union Territory of Lakshadweep, where total prohibition is in place.

Historically, liquor was banned in various states during the pre-Independence era. Soon after India attained Independence, various state governments lifted the ban.

Here is a look at history of prohibition laws in various states.

1. Bihar: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has imposed total prohibition on liquor. The prohibition came to effect from 1 April, 2016. The new prohibition law has a jail term up to seven years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 10 lakh for the consumption of alcohol. In addition, the new law has the provision for capital punishment for those who engaged in manufacturing or trading of illicit liquor if its consumption leads to casualty. The law is termed draconian.

Reports suggest that the liquor ban will bring a loss of a whopping Rs 6,000 crore to Bihar’s exchequer. Prohibition is a fulfilment of the poll promise made by Nitish Kumar ahead of the 2015 Assembly elections. Bihar had also tried to implement prohibition when Karpoori Thakur was the Chief Minister in 1977-78, but failed.

2. Haryana: Haryana imposed a total prohibition when Bhajan Lal of Haryana Janhit Congress was the chief minster in 1996. Bansi Lal-led Haryana Vikas Party government lifted the prohibition in 1998. Repealing prohibition was a major poll plank of Bansi Lal in 1996 Assembly elections. A Business Standard report suggests that the ineffective imposition of prohibition has cost the state coffer Rs 1,200 crore that time.

3. Gujarat: Bombay State had implemented prohibition between 1948 and 1950, and again in 1958. Gujarat has a sumptuary law in force that proscribes the manufacture, storage, sale and consumption of alcohol. The legislation came into force since 1 May, 1960 when Gujarat was carved out of Bombay State.

4. Maharashtra: Though Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949 is still in force in Maharashtra, the licensing regime in state in quite liberal in granting licenses to vendors and traders of liquor.

5. Andhra Pradesh: Madras State had implemented total prohibition when C Rajagopalachari was the Chief Minister in 1952. After Andhra Pradesh became a state, then Chief Minister NT Rama Rao introduced the prohibition law afresh in 1994. In 1997, N Chandrababu Naidu government repealed the prohibition.

6. Tamil Nadu: Even after it was carved out of Madras State, Tamil Nadu continued to adopt total prohibition until the DMK government led by M Karunanidhi repealed it in 1971. But the same government later imposed prohibition in 1974. Again in 1981, the AIADMK government led by MG Ramachandran lifted prohibition.

7. Kerala: During Oommen Chandy’s Congress regime in 2014, Kerala implemented prohibition in phased manner. As per the liquor policy of the Chandy government, bars in Kerala had to renew licenses every year. The policy resulted in closure of as many as 418 bars. Bar owners lobby vociferously opposed the policy. A major scandal came to the light reported with several ministers were bribed by the bar owners in order to procure licences.

Now, the Left front government led by Pinarayi Vijayan is batting for “abstinence” in place of prohibition. “We are for abstinence, not prohibition. Prohibition leads to many socio-legal problems. Wherever liquor has been prohibited, there is a tendency to consume through illegal means,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told in an interview to Mint.

8. Manipur: RK Ranbir Singh government in Maniput enforced total prohibition in 1991. In 2002, Okram Ibobi Singh government partially lifted the prohibition. The state Legislative Assembly passed the Manipur Liquor Prohibition (Amendment) Bill in the same year lifting prohibition in five hill districts of the state – Chandel, Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul.

9. Nagaland: Nagaland has a total prohibition on liquor. Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act (NLTP) banned the possession, sale, consumption and manufacture of alcohol in 1989. However, there are some restricted permits for consumption of alcohols by foreigners and NRIs.

The enforcement of the ban is at lax as excise department and state police are turning a blind eye to the illegal sale and smuggling of liquor. Country made liquor is readily available in various parts of the state.

10. Mizoram: Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act, 1995, banned the sale and consumption of alcohol. In 2007, the Act was amended to allow wine to be made from guavas and grapes. But the restrictions on alcohol continued. On 10 July, 2014, the state Legislative Assembly passed the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Bill, 2014, easing the prohibition policy and replaced the MLTP Act. The Presbyterian Church had organised mass protests opposing the move.

11. Lakshadweep: Lakshadweep is the only union territory of India that has a total prohibition on consumption and sale of liquor. However, the consumption of alcohol is permitted in the uninhabited island of Bangaram.


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