Almost four years ago in 2016, the Bihar government banned alcohol because Nitish Kumar wanted to create a new vote bank out of women, just like he did by sub-categorization of Dalits of the state. But, the liquor ban in the state is only on legal documents, because, as per the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS-5) 2019-20, Bihar consumes more alcohol than Maharashtra despite the ban.
The NFHS report revealed that 15.5 per cent of all men consumed alcohol in Bihar while in Maharashtra only 13.9 per cent of people consume it. In rural Bihar, 15.8 per cent of people consume alcohol while in urban regions it is 14 per cent. On the other hand, in rural Maharashtra 13 per cent consume alcohol while it goes to 14.7 per cent when talking about the urban areas.
The prohibition on liquor has given rise to many “Abdul Latifs” – the infamous bootlegger from Gujarat on whom the movie Raees is based on – who are earning thousands of crores through liquor smuggling. The thousands of crores they earn further goes into illegal and criminal activities leading to a never-ending vicious cycle.
So, thousands of crores which could have gone to state coffers and honest businessmen’s pocket- which would lead to the welfare of the poor and economic growth of the state- is now in the pocket of Bihar’s own Abdul Latifs and would lead to the rise of crime and additional burden on the criminal justice system in the low capacity state.
Moreover, consumption of spurious liquor leads to death of many people, reported every month. Since the prohibition was imposed four years ago, hundreds of people died due to consumption of desi liquor or over-concentrated industrial liquor.
Excise on alcoholic beverages already accounts for 20-25 per cent of the states’ own taxes in most of the states (except the dry ones) of the country; this increased excise might take this to above 30 per cent if Bihar continues with the trend.
The poor state loses 4,000-5,000 crore rupees from the excise on alcohol every year, and in the last four years, more than 20,000 crore rupees have been lost in revenue due to the ban on alcohol. This money could have been used to finance infrastructure building in the state given the fact that Bihar still has the worst infrastructure among the large states of India.
Also given the fact that GST revenues have dried due to lockdown in recent months, most of the states including neighbouring Uttar Pradesh used revenues from alcohol sales to compensate for that. But, the coffers of the dry state Bihar remained dry while states like UP, Delhi, Maharashtra, and Haryana earned thousands of crores by increasing taxes on alcohol.
The ban on sale is benefitting the neighbouring states like UP, Jharkhand, and West Bengal from where the traffickers source liquor and sell at a double-triple price in Bihar.
Moreover, the liquor ban is putting an extra burden on weak judicial infrastructure in Bihar as more than 2 lakh cases related to illegal liquor consumption have piled up in various courts of the state. Patna High Court has even slammed Nitish Kumar government for banning liquor without creating adequate legal infrastructure to deal with the law.