November 6, 2021

The spurt in hooch tragedies in 2021 points to the failure of the alcohol ban policy in Bihar

The deaths in the last few days of at least 25 people in Bihar’s Gopalganj and West Champaran districts and five in Muzaffarpur apart from several others taking ill after consuming spurious liquor points to the unintended but not unexpected consequences of the total prohibition law that has been in effect in the State for more than five years. Hooch tragedies such as these are a consequence of the unregulated production and sale of liquor via the black market, and the use of illicit liquor as a substitute due to the lack of the sale of over-the-counter and regulated drinks. Prohibition as a policy has been shown up as inadequate to curb the problem of alcoholism and the havoc wreaked by it on households due to excessive consumption for a variety of reasons in State after State. In Bihar, implementation has not been without immense public support, especially among rural women. Yet, despite significant steps taken to enhance enforcement by officials from the excise department, the police and local administration — over 3.46 lakh people arrested in the last five years and close to 150 lakh litres of country-made and Indian Made Foreign Liquor being seized from April 2016 to February 2021 — weaknesses in imposing the ban persist. It is well known that one of the negative externalities of prohibition is the creation of a parallel bootlegger economy that could lead to an increase in violent crime, and this seems to be borne out in Bihar as well.

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