Prohibition and Alcoholism

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It must be quite an irony of fate that three traditionally heavy drinking states, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur, were till recently the only dry states in the entire Northeast, that is till Mizoram in July last year decided to reversed its policy on sale and consumption of alcohol. This was after 18 years in the case of Mizoram, when the government of the day decided its prohibition law Mizoram Liquor (Total Prohibition) Act of 1995, was an exercise in futility and lifted it partially to be replaced by Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Bill 2014. By this Act, sale and consumption of liquor is no longer illegal, but are still under stiff restrictions. This is an important development, for let there be no dispute about this, in the case of Manipur and Nagaland too, though the states are officially dry, liquor is still freely available in the black market. What prohibition has done is far from eliminating the business or the drinking habits of people. It had only driven the business underground. Businesses of licensed vendors were put to an end, only to the benefit illegal traders, which incidentally include some units of the security forces stationed in these states, who it had been alleged on several occasions, including in a court case by a soldier of a particular unit, that subsidized rationed consignments of liquor of these units were being systematically siphoned off to the black market for respectable premiums. It is only common sense that the business continues to thrive in the black market because there is a demand for the commodity. Indeed, people in these states never gave up drinking like good law abiding citizens once the law banned it. In Imphal, practically every brand of foreign liquor is available. The extremely potent locally brewed rice wines also still flows. There is also a danger associated with prohibition especially for the poorer section who cannot afford branded bottled drinks. Left with little choices they begin to drink whatever is available and since legal vigil of quality is absent because of the prohibition, what are available are not always up to prescribed health standards.

This is a plea that Manipur should consider the Mizoram approach. Alcoholism is a scourge and it must be fought, but prohibition is not an effective way of doing this, as the state has been witnessing in all the nearly two and half decades it was under official prohibition. Make sale and consumption of liquor legal and open, and then control the trade legally by putting suitable restrictions to prevent its abuse. The debate on prohibition had repeatedly come up in the state Assemblies of both Nagaland and Manipur, but with no substantive decisions taken till date. We hope some changes come about in the months ahead in both the states. There are other organizations and institutions, also opposed to lifting of prohibition. In the case of Manipur these are some powerful insurgent groups, and in the case of Nagaland it is the church. The thought that we want to float at this junctures is, conditionally lifting prohibition is not about encouraging alcoholism but of fighting it. Manipur became officially dry in 1991 during RK Ranabir`™s MPP government. But what must be remembered here is that the ban was not just by the government but also by the underground parallel governments. In fact the ban on liquor was first by the underground organizations, a move which was immensely popular at the point in time, and the government had to also follow suit so as to save itself losing face by attempting to claim some of the winds from the initiative by these groups. A lot of water has flowed down the many rivers of Manipur in the decades that have passed by, and now it is time to review the situation to weigh the pros and cons of the ban and reshape so only its good features are allowed to remain while its detrimental aspects are done away with.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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