Insights into Editorial: A cop-out called prohibition
29 April 2016
Following the footsteps of Gujarat, the Bihar state government recently banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in the state. This was also one of its key electoral promises. The same has been promised by some parties in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. With this, it appears that prohibition of alcohol is back on the political agenda. It should, however, be noted here that this policy is currently not practised in any country outside the Islamic world.
Facts at Glance:
- Alcohol is a subject in the State list under the seventh schedule of the Indian Constitution.
- Article 47 of the Directive Principle in the Constitution of India states that “The state shall undertake rules to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”
Intention behind the prohibition:
Those, who are in favor of ban, argue that alcohol consumption leads to household impoverishment, domestic violence and premature mortality. Children and women are suffering more than anyone else due to increasing liquor consumption.
Why this is a good idea?
- Prohibition of alcohol limits and/or prevents alcohol addiction. This particular addiction can easily ruin people’s lives, including their jobs, their friends, their families, and obviously themselves too.
- Alcohol, especially in large quantities, can damage people’s kidneys and livers, and can eventually lead to death.
- Some religions (such as Islam, Mormonism, and some Pentecostal Christians) expressly forbids the consumption of alcohol.
- Some argue that there is a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and an increase in crime. Violent crimes, assault, and disorderly conduct are most common with persons who are intoxicated.
- Prohibition reduces the causalities and damages through drunk driving.
- Alcohol can be a very expensive habit.
Why this is a bad decision?
- Firstly, there are serious doubts about the governments’ political will and administrative ability to prevent total sale and consumption of liquor.
- Ban may also lead to smuggling of illicit liquor and production of spurious liquor.
- It also spawns massive corruption. Prohibition may not automatically result in wise and healthy spending patterns.
- Blanket bans could adversely affect tourism, hospitality and other businesses, besides being an unfair intrusion into personal choices of a large section of people who can afford liquor and consume moderately.
- Alcohol addiction is considered a victimless crime, since it primarily affects the alcoholics. While it does affect the people around alcoholics, it does not directly affect them. People can always keep their distance from or leave alcoholics, if they choose.
- Criminal organizations will mostly profit from prohibition and, that in return, will promote other illegal activities.
- In most cultures and religions, social drinking is an acceptable practice.
- Also, people should have the freedom of choice to decide to drink alcohol or not, as long as that freedom does not infringe on the freedoms of other people. Therefore, a law prohibiting alcohol would remove the freedom of choice.
How much loss will the state incur?
The sale of alcohol contributes to the economy of the state through the tax directly and through the tourism, indirectly. The State Excise in India is mainly imposed on the sale of liquor, which is commonly known as Liquor tax. The states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab earn a large portion of their revenue from the State Excise. Because of the ban in consumption of alcohol in dry states, they are regarded as a poor contributor.
What else can the government do to discourage people from drinking alcohol?
- Enforce a minimum price for alcohol.
- Raise the legal drinking age.
- Stop distribution of new licenses.
- Ban marketing of alcohol.
It is evident that the problem is complex and there can be no easy solutions, especially one that fits all. Alcohol addiction and its ill-effects may affect the poor more, but the middle and upper-middle classes cannot claim to be immune to its debilitating consequences either. Addiction should be addressed at two levels: temperance campaigns to promote moderate consumption and opening of de-addiction centres to help those suffering from addiction. Just a blanket ban will not work.