Prohibition law vis-a-vis Manipur

Prof (Dr) Nimai Chand Luwang*

The term "prohibition" refers to the legal prevention of the manufacture, storage, transportation, distribution, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages with the aim of obtaining total abstinence through legal means. The anti-liquor movement in the West is nearly two centuries-old. An abstinence pledge was introduced by Churches in the United States as early as 1800.

One of the landmark events in the internationalization of the movement was the organization of the World Prohibition Conference held in London, in 1909. It was instrumental in the formation of the International Prohibition Confederation embracing the United States, in the European countries and a few other industrialized countries. Nationwide prohibition was enforced in the United States in 1920 (via the 18th Amendment and National Prohibition Act).

However, post 1933, a shift towards liberalization was seen as countries were unable to stop illicit liquor sales and losing out on revenue. The National Prohibition Act was repealed in the US in 1933. Most countries that introduced prohibition have withdrawn or liberalized the measure, such as the US, Japan, China etc. At present, there is a complete prohibition of liquor in 5 countries in the Middle East/North Africa which include Afghanistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Sudan.

Some other countries like Brunel Darussalam, Comoro, Iran, Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria and Yemen—prohibit alcohol for Muslim citizens only. The United Arab Emirates allows for sale of alcohol except in the region of Sharjah.

Prohibition Laws in India

Bombay Abkari Act, 1878 : The first regulatory measure for the prohibition of liquor was through the Bombay Abkari Act, 1878 which deals with the levying of duties on intoxicants, among other things and aspects of prohibition via amendments made in 1939 and 1947.

Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949 : There were "many lacunae" in the Bombay Abkari Act, 1878 from the point of view of the Government's decision to enforce prohibition. This led to the birth of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949.

Gujarat Prohibition Act, 1949 : Gujarat adopted prohibition policy in 1960 and subsequently enforced it with rigidity, but made the process easier for foreign tourists and visitors to obtain liquor permits. In 2011, the law was renamed as Gujarat Prohibition Act. In 2017, the Gujarat Prohibition (Amendment) Act was passed with provision of up to ten years jail for manufacturing, purchase, sale and transportation of liquor in the dry State.

Bihar Prohibition Act, 2016: The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act was brought into effect in 2016. Over 3.5 lac people have been arrested under the stringent prohibition law since 2016, leading to crowded jails and clogged Courts.

Other States: Alcohol prohibition is in force in the States of Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur, as well in the Union Territory of Lakshadweep. Logic and principle behind prohibition Constitutional obligation: Article 47 of the Constitution directs the State to take measures to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living and to improve public health. The State should endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption of intoxicating drinks and drugs which are injurious to health.

Impact on health : Drinking liquor plays a great role in adverse impacts on health. According to the WHO, the harmful use of alcohol is a causal factor in more than 200 diseases and injury conditions and globally 3 million deaths occur annually due to harmful use of alcohol (5.3% of all deaths).

Curb gender-based violence: Alcohol consumption used to be one of the most common cause of gender-based violence, including domestic violence. Reduction in crime: Intoxication impairs an individual’s ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Hence, reduction in alcohol consumption is desired to reduce crime in society

Economic stress: Addiction to alcohol creates severe economic hardships, especially among poor families as the male members tend to spend more and more on alcohol due to addiction. This in turn reduces the budget for spending on essential items and in many cases pushes the family into borrowings.

Arguments against prohibition

Loss of revenue: Tax revenues from alcohol is a major part of any Government’s revenue resources. These enable the Government to finance several public welfare schemes. Absence of these revenues may severely impact the State’s ability to run public welfare programmes. The Indian Made Foreign Liquors (IMFL) industry also provides direct and indirect employment.

Bootlegging: Failure in effective implementation gives rise to bootlegging – illegal production, transportation, and sale of liquor. Liquor mafias emerge which keeps on supplying illicit liquor, with no quality checks to the masses. This is a normal phenomenon defeating the purpose of the prohibition of liquor and gives rise to organized crime as well.

Health impacts: Many people lose their lives after consuming poor quality illicit liquor. Alcohol prohibition may also lead people into consuming other substances which are easy to smuggle and may result in greater health and social consequences.

A populist measure: Critics argue that alcohol prohibition is merely used as a political card, especially to woo women voters. It may not solve their problems as people addicted to alcohol end up consuming other alternative intoxicants and illegal substances whose impact is similar or even worse than legally manufactured alcohol.

Why liquor prohibition is not effective

Past experiences : Historical experience has shown that liquor bans are ineffective and even counterproductive, and only give rise to crime and deaths by consumers drinking illicit liquor. Bans seldom work, they just push the alcohol consumption underground which then brings the criminal element into the picture.

Corruption: One important cause for failure of prohibition is corruption at all levels. Local officials form a nexus with liquor mafia and overlook the underground activities. The modus operandi of unlawful players keep on changing from time to time making it difficult to detect.

Support of neighbouring regions: Liquor is smuggled from neighbouring States and regions.

Easy money and workforce: Unemployed youths get the opportunity of earning quick and easy money by smuggling illicit liquor.

High addiction: Banning alcohol does not reduce its demand but rather intensifies it. People risk their lives and drink illicit liquor to satisfy their addiction. Demand for alcohol is inelastic, whatever the price, there is always a crowd at every alcohol shop.

Summary and conclusion

In 2010, WHO member States came to a consensus that reducing the harmful use of alcohol and its associated health and social burden is a public health priority. The harmful effects of alcohol misuse need no debate at all. There are merits and demer-its of prohibition, there are opinions in favour and against. The need of the hour is a tough law and its effective implementation.

Total prohibition was enforced in Manipur due to pressure and demands from different quarters including women groups, civil society groups and other external forces.... The Manipur Liquor Prohibition Act, 1991 was enacted in 1991. The Act exempts prohibition for the members of the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities to brew liquor for traditional purposes.

The Act was amended on 31st July 2002 lifting prohibition in the districts of Chandel, Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul. Governments at different times had mulled removing prohibition in the State, largely for economic rea-sons. The Act was further amended in 2018 to allow manufacture of liquor for the purpose of export.

However, these laws could never be enforced in reality and remains effective only on paper. The apparent logic be-hind legalising alcohol/ lifting of prohibition is that an additional revenue to the tune of Rs 600 crore per annum will be generated.

Another argument is that the existing Prohibition Act is not effectively enforced and alcohol is still easily available. We need to look seriously as to the practical justification of these arguments. Lifting of prohibition will certainly lead to recog-nition of alcohol industry in several villages in Manipur, although it may risk open-ing a Pandora's box.

Lifting prohibition poses a great risk because of multifarious adverse impacts on health and the society. Association with alcohol is considered a social evil in Manipuri soci-\ety, more so for women who brew and sell alcohol.

Despite various pretexts, rationalizations and public support, the endeavour to legalise liquor by lifting prohibition in the State and its effective implementation appears premature and be-yond the bounds of possibility.

* Prof (Dr) Nimai Chand Luwang wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a former Member of the Manipur legislative Assembly (five times; 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th )
This article was webcasted on November 074 2022.

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