Patna,(BiharTimes): It is a classic case of policy doublespeak in Bihar. Firstly on July 1, 2007 the Nitish government, notwithstanding strong opposition, introduced the New Excise Policy, which helped the state increase its excise revenue from Rs 329 crore in 2005-06 to Rs 2,045 crore in 2011-12. The state has now 5,624 licensed liquor shops, when there are about 8,500 panchayats, besides, towns and cities.
Now the same state government, following widespread criticism from all sides, especially women, and big rise in crime rate, last year declared November 26 as Prohibition Day. It has nothing to do with the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008, but the date was chosen to make another political capital out of it. It was on November 26, 2010 that Nitish Kumar was sworned in again as the chief minister for the second term. Otherwise the best occasion to observe Prohibition Day should have been Gandhi Jayanti day.
While Nitish talked about the bane of alcoholism and released a message in his voice and also through SMS his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi and state DGP undertook a Cycle Yatra on the occasion.
But the women organizations termed all these efforts as a drama and a cheap popularity to befool the people of the state. Under the banner of Bihar Women’s Network (BWN) and Patna chapter of National Alliance of Women’s Organization, they organized street-plays and big march in the state capital to protest against the rampant alcoholism. They squarely blamed the chief minister, Nitish Kumar, for the rise in crime and atrocities against women and children since 2007, when the New Excise Policy came into effect.
On the other hand Nitish said at a function that his government wants to make people aware about the ill-effects of liquor consumption, reduce the number of drinkers and make the society free of social evils and menace of alcoholism.
The chief minister said that he had directed the officials to increase the taxes on alcohol so that people avoid drinking. “We will ensure that spurious liquor is not sold. Only authentic ones will be sold so that the government gets the revenue. The campaign against consumption of alcohol will continue. People will gradually understand that liquor is injurious to health,” he added.
Women groups said that once again the state government is not interested in getting rid of alcoholism, but by increasing tax it had an eye on earning more excise duty.
However, it was the deputy chief minister sushil Kumar Modi and Excise Minister Vijendra Yadav who said something very strange on the occasion. They argued that banning liquor would amount to the violation of individual freedom and would be an undemocratic step.
This statement of both the ministers sparked off a controversy. “If banning anything is undemocratic why has the Bihar government banned the sale of gutka? And by the same logic the Narendra Modi government is undemocratic because there is prohibition in Gujarat. After all gutka is only injurious to health while liquor is injurious to both the health and society,” commented an activist, while talking to BiharTimes.
Said Archana Kumari, the co-ordinator of Bihar Women’s Network: “The reason behind most crimes in the state is liquor. It has also increased atrocities against women. People living in rural areas spend 25 per cent of their earning on liquor and men beat up their wives under its influence. Ironically all these are happening in the state where so much is being talked about empowering women.”
Incidentally, while the state government is talking about checking the growth of liquor shops, in the recent years it has given licence to several prominent international beverage firms to set up their plants in Bihar, some of them in the vicinity of Patna.