Patna: Bihar government will only ban country liquor from April 1 next year.
The government has also informed that English liquor will be made expensive to discourage drinking among masses.
Earlier, CM Nitish Kumar had announced Bihar would become a dry state. The chief minister made the announcement — a part of his election pledge — at an official function to mark Prohibition Day.
He said the poorest of the poor had been consuming liquor, badly hitting their families and their children’s education.
Increasing liquor consumption was also a major cause for domestic violence, particularly against women, and had contributed to a rise in crimes.
“Women are suffering more than anyone else due to increasing liquor consumption,” he said.
This decision that will cost the cash-starved state around Rs 4,000 crore in revenues every year.
The move follows a promise Nitish had made in July in the middle of the Assembly poll campaign. “I will not step back from what I had said… and I will implement it. I had spoken from my heart. The new policy of prohibition would be implemented from the next financial year beginning April 1, 2016,” Nitish said at a programme to mark Prohibition Day.
For the past four years, the government has been observing November 26 as Prohibition Day as part of its efforts to curtail liquor consumption.
The chief minister admitted the potential loss of revenue. “I know there would be a loss of revenue but I will do it to bring happiness on the faces of poor families. We have to face problems for two to three years. However, I will adjust the loss. There are people who will say liquor will come from other sources, I will tackle it when the problem arises,” Nitish said.
The decision found rare support from a key political rival. “We will fully support total prohibition in Bihar. Country liquor as well as foreign liquor should be part of this ban,” tweeted Sushil Kumar Modi, senior BJP leader who was deputy chief minister till Nitish snapped ties with the party in 2013.
In ordering the prohibition, Nitish has done a 180-degree turn. After coming to power first in 2005, he took several steps to increase excise revenue.
In the 2010 Assembly polls, his then political foe and current ally Lalu Prasad had made this a political issue, alleging at almost every rally that Nitish had introduced liquor in all villages.
When Nitish took over the reins from the Lalu-Rabri regime in 2005, there were 3,000 liquor shops across the state. Today, the number has touched 6,000.
Naval Kishore Singh, one of Bihar’s oldest liquor retailers, said: “In 2005, Bihar used to generate Rs 295 crore of revenue from liquor sales. The figure is expected to touch Rs 4,000 crore in 2015-16.”
In 2006, the Nitish government had under a new liquor policy set up the Bihar State Beverages Corporation Limited and made it mandatory for all manufacturers to sell liquor through it, Kishore said. “…the number of liquor shops increased as the excise department started issuing licences for marketing liquor.”
Excise tax – the bulk of which comes from liquor – makes up about 15 per cent of the total revenues generated by the state from its own resources, which stands at Rs 30,875 crore for 2015-16 and is among the lowest for large states.
Several states such as Haryana (under then chief minister Bansi Lal) and Andhra Pradesh helmed by N.T. Rama Rao had clamped prohibition in the 1990s to earn electoral dividends. But the ban had to be lifted following huge losses in revenue and also because prohibition led to a proliferation in black-market activities such as bootlegging. Bihar too briefly flirted with prohibition under Karpoori Thakur between 1977 and 1979.
At present, only Gujarat, Nagaland, Manipur and the Union Territory of Lakshadweep have total prohibition. In Kerala, bars are allowed only in five-star establishments.