Sunday, December 05, 2021

NLTP Act of 1989: The Law of Permission?

By EMN Updated: Sep 17, 2014 10:39 pm

Riku Khutso & Venusa Tunyi, University of Hyderabad

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he call for a debate on the Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act (NLTP) of 1989 by the DAN III has prompted extensive public discourse. Opinions of all sorts have found expressions on the local media. The Naga Hoho’s half-hearted voice suggestive of lifting the ban was also heard. Nonetheless, the position of the NBCC and its constituent tribal church councils are as clear and strong as possible – total prohibition. All these somewhat conflicting views, despite their informative values, do not seem to be helping the government to take a resolute decision. While on the one hand, it wants to please the majority, on the other hand, it seems unwise to ignore the voice of the minority, the legitimate recognition of which would also at the same time generate some income for the government too.In this write up we would like to make a strong plea to the government to be more critical of itself. It is good to listen to others but at times such as this, it may be wiser to examine itself and discover where it’s heart or head is, not forgetting its hands and feet. For this, we would like to take a look (though not in detail) at the provisions in the document that is on fire – the NLTP of 1989.
Going through the provisions of the Act is revealing. It contains inconsistent normative intuitions with significant amount of vagueness and ambiguity. This is typical of laws which breed corruptions inside and outside the law-making bodies. To begin with, the Act is a lengthy document that runs over 45 pages (going by the scanned copy accessed from internet source). If one reads it consciously, the reason for its length is not so much because of the complexity of the subject matter per se but more so due to avoidable repetitions and modifications through the means of which various intentions and possibilities to manipulate the Act has been craftily concealed.
Let us consider some of the provisions for instance. Clauses 11 and 12 generally deal with prohibition on the manufacture, sale, possession, consumption, transportation of liquor. But this is immediately followed by sub-sections within them which empower the authorities to issue permit concerning usage and possession of liquor. No rationale has been provided for issuing permits though there are indications that the permit is limited to “domestic and other purpose and different limits may be fixed for (i) different local areas, (ii) different classes of persons, and (iii) different occasions” (Clause 11 (2)). What is that “other purpose” is certainly questionable and so are the notions of “classes of people” and “occasions.” No mention has been made of the quantity of liquor one can possess or consume or sale or manufacture or transport except for the vague and cryptic suggestion not to do any of these in excess. They are certainly not for medical or scientific purpose since there are separate clauses (14 & 15) to cover them.
The implication of the above reading is that the very Act which authorizes the officers (Director of prohibition, subordinate officers, the state council and district committees) to execute total prohibition, also at the same time empowers the same to undermine the Act. What started off as a “total prohibition” is gradually slipping into “partial prohibition.” What cannot officially enter through the front door can now officially enter through the back door. Since no proper justification for including these contentious clauses are provided, any officer empowered by the state can misuse them not only to undermine the noble purpose of the Act but also to invite corrupt practices. If only one is known to the officer either through biological relation or any other relation of mutual interest, he or she can hold the key to alcoholic paradise. Just to cite another curious case, clause 13 which deals with the general conditions of issuing permit doesn’t specify to whom and by whom the permit is to be issued. Even a young teen can avail the permit.
Perhaps a concrete example is needed here to make our point. During Hornbill Festival, the government becomes all powerful and exercises its authority to manipulate the Act by exploiting the notions of “classes of people” or “occasions” mentioned above. Alcohol is freely available; permission is granted for the sale, manufacture and consumption of locally brewed alcohol. In the pretext of this relaxation, all kinds of liquor from outside also pour into the state, making it almost totally wet. This is the best time to tell the whole world that in Nagaland the people in power (including those known to them) can do anything and everything irrespective of what the law says.
Given such loopholes in the structure of the Act, how can one blame the police, for instance, for the easy availability of alcohol in the state? As such, as hinted above, it is not clear as to how by adding clause after clause, the Act is going to serve its purpose. Rather, the opposite seems to be truer. The problems do not stop here. If one carefully reads between the lines in clause 80 (including its sub-sections), it makes the whole Act appears somewhat arbitrary and ad hoc with no significant purpose to serve. It is so because through this clause the government has reserved every right for itself, that is, all the provisions which are to ensure total prohibition has been reduced to a series of conditions and exceptions. What has been legislated as the law of total prohibition is made to look like the law of permission. Not that the state has no power to revise or repeal laws in its jurisdiction but that the Act is analogous to a situation where a disgruntled father is forced to adopt a pet dog by a nagging child; the unhappy father in turn gives a list of Dos and Don’ts with strict instruction to return the dog in the event of any displeasure by the child. As far as the father is concern, the dog has no merit or use except an additional mouth to feed. The dog is a burden, not a companion by day and guard by night.
Clause 43 which says that any court shall not take cognizance of any offence without a complaint by the Director of prohibition or any subordinate officer authorized by him limits the role of the judiciary and police in particular and that of the public in general. The discretionary power of the Director of Prohibition is baffling considering the purpose for which the Act has come into existence. Though the same has been amended in 1993, it reveals the fact that right from the beginning, the government is more interested to enjoy autocratic power rather than to address the problem at hand.
Of course, NLTP is only an act and not a constitutional provision. But it is not in consonant with the nature of laws of modern state. This is more like “Rule by law” rather than “Rule of law.” Even dictators and oppressors can make arbitrary laws for mere purpose of controlling the people, an instance of “Rule by law”, but the latter – Rule of Law – is the virtue of any civilized society. In the former, authorities can be above the law but in the latter, no one is above the law. To reiterate the same point, NLTP seems to have been passed mainly to assert and maintain the power of the government and only secondarily to execute the will of the people. We have thus failed to see any genuine intention or commitment on the part of the government to truly uphold the Act in question.

By EMN Updated: Sep 17, 2014 10:39:26 pm