Legalising production and sale of liquor, whose gain is it?

S K Singh *

The 20th Sep, 2022 would remain a historic day in the annals of 'liquor, its production and consumption' in the state. This day the State Cabinet took a decision, can we term it, at the least 'bold', to move ahead to legalize production and streamline sale of liquor, particularly local liquors in the state.

This is historic day because, with this decision of the government, a passage of long 30 years of 'prohibition' in the state comes to an end. The big question could be if the whole process of implementation of the Act, execution and enforcement of the terms of the various clauses and sub clauses adequately satisfactory. The answer definitely is a big 'No'. The ground scenario testifies it.

There are however, issues needing in-depth analysis. The fact remains that by and large, the Act didn't get justice in terms of compliance, accordance and servility. It was defied not only by the common man, but also largely by the enforcement agencies of the government.

To be honest, some of the more important agencies be they CSOs including the public and even public institutions were reportedly globes in hand with the traders for their share of the meat. That resulted to a situation where liquor was and is available anywhere and anytime, despite prohibition, causing the same damage to the society.

Tracing the facts, the state was declared 'dry' on April 1, 1991, prohibiting production, sale and consumption of liquor in whatever form and manner and has since been under this order of the government.

Recalling the history of this long 30 years of prohibition of sale or drinking liquor, it is easy to claim that this Act had been suffering from highest degree of disrespect, ridicule and perhaps traces of mockery. It is violated in all forms and manner from production, sale and consumption. The reasons are not far to seek. Across the state, the districts, the rural or hill areas, the urban or semi urban pockets, the markets big or small to the extent of Leikais, street corners, you name any, this prohibited drink is available aplenty and taken nonstop.

This includes not only the locally prepared ones, but also all varieties and brands of Indian made foreign liquor. Recall how these prohibited items are floating around hot spots like 'hotels and joints' around the MPP office, spots behind the Pologround, corners at North BOC, eating joints at Khagempally to name a few and quite a large number of joints in the very heart of Imphal.

The only variance could be, yes, these may be at a higher price than would normally be available, had there been no prohibition. Prohibition makes it still easy to get but at a higher cost. The manufacturers had their share of profit perhaps much more than would normally be reasonable, the reason, it's dry state.

Those involved in the trade of marketing too got their share of margin much more than would have been, had there been no prohibition. The worst, the consumers are the greatest loser from all counts. These could be the cumulative effect of cost, quality and therefore the likely effect on health.

What challenges the state government faces this day? They are aware of the following issues:-

i) There is an act, 'The Manipur Liquor Prohibition Act, 1991',
ii) Manufacture of liquor, except for traditional religious or cultural consideration, is banned;
iii) Despite this restriction, local and imported liquor is available aplenty;
iv) As human urge dictates, spurious products are marketed and this distorts the health of some people causing serious drain of resources on the health sector of the government;
v) Indian made foreign liquor too is available almost everywhere though at a higher cost'
vi) The state government loses revenue estimated to be around Rs 600 crore per year, all these 30 years, because of this Act;
vii) Had there been no prohibition, had drinks which otherwise are available at ease, been available at registered shops, the state government would generate revenue, which otherwise are in short supply for the state's development;

viii) Prices of liquor would be normal; people would be protected from taking spurious drinks and government would be relatively safe from avoidable health expenses;
ix) Common man would be safe from the urge to take refuse to consuming spurious drinks, much to the relief of the state's health administration;
x) A situation arises where on lifting ban, drinks would be available legally, though at a cheaper cost, implying that people can go ahead still with taking drinks;
xi) These may not be spurious, may cost less and can be had openly at registered points though;

The public outcry mainly from Coalition Against Drug and Alcohol (CADA), a conglomerate of CSOs and localized institutions, the Nupi Samaj etc. against use of alcohol still exists. They have to rise, argue and work for a really true 'dry state'. This journey is of course, for both the government agencies duly aided by the CSOs.

The grey areas are while the public institutions are miserably falling short of their responsibilities, the CSOs too are not far behind. Both fail to complement, to each other, to oversee, even partially, the availability of liquor, local or imported.

Yes there are instances of impounding large quantity of liquor, destroying them, booking those involved. These remain sporadic and quietly the business rolls on despite the alleged hawk's eyes preying on illicit movement of these illegal materials. And this movement is near open, a free trade flourishes on the very nose of all, be they government machineries, units of CADA, Nupi Samaj, you name any, all remain highly docile.

And the illicit trade flourishes, bloom and thrive. Had the CADA, the NUPI SAMAJ, IMA LUPs and their branches across the Leikais were true to their proclamations, there would be curbs in the sale and therefore consumptions. Such a situation never occurred.

With this scenario a reality, don't we need to ponder on what should be the next step? Merely voicing restraint on lifting prohibition won't lead us to the desired status of a dry state. It was dry till Sept 20; yet it was openly available all these past 30 years albeit, at a higher cost. What should we do? Our goal is to stop taking it, legal or otherwise.

With this lifting of prohibition, people would be free to have it openly, not clandestinely as before. But the fact remains that 'drink' would be legally available, can be consumed again legally of course not in public places. The singular gain is perhaps the revenue gained by the government. Taking drinks would be more at liberty. Where do the people benefit then?

* S K Singh wrote this article for
The writer can be reached at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 30 2022.

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