Response to public discussion on NSDZs, NIB & the NLTP Act 1989 (Part-III)
Dr. Chumben Murry, Ex-Minister
[dropcap]P[/dropcap]rohibition results in a variation of demand-supply equation. Legalized supply is cut off but, demand remains and the stage is set for smuggling. In spite of up scaling of efforts on enforcement, smugglers will continue to find loopholes. This has been the experience worldwide where there has been prohibition. If we are to think that total prohibition can eradicate alcohol then, probably we are chasing dreams and butterflies. So, finally, it is just a matter of control of smuggling of alcohol, which by itself is a defeat insofar as total prohibition is concerned. But of more concern, is the spurt in bootlegging and introduction of spurious alcohol and its natural adverse health sequel observed in places where total alcohol prohibition has been promulgated.
With particular reference to Nagaland, smuggling of alcohol is easy as in the immediate neighboring state Assam; there is no such prohibition. Alcohol and other psychotropic substances which are banned in Nagaland are not so in the state of Assam. Each State of the Indian Union has its own right to enact law on alcohol. This has given rise to what is called “Patchwork of Law” due to differences in legality of alcohol sale and consumption. This by itself is another disadvantage.In Gujarat, where prohibition was enforced in 1960, it is reported that more human lives have been lost after prohibition than before. In 1989 hooch tragedy in Vadodara, an inquiry commission headed by Justice (Retd.) A. A. Dave recommended to the Govt. either to abolish the prohibition policy or to make suitable changes in it. Other legal luminaries who headed such other commissions made similar recommendations. Other consensus feeling is also that if lifted, there will be decrease in prohibition related corruption and also decrease fund used by the Govt. on its implementation.
In USA, when National prohibition of liquor now referred to as the Noble Experiment was enforced during 1920 – 1933, these are some of the comments on the prohibition
• Prohibition curtailed the growth of responsible drinking practices (Zinberg & Frazer 1985).
• Prohibition encouraged lawless drinking – Drinking in 1910 (before prohibition) was a man’s game, today it is a man-and-woman’s game. Earlier a man comes back to an alcohol-disgusted wife, today they both sometimes get drunk together and try to slip into the house as quietly as possible so as not do wake up the children (Asbury, 1968).
• In 1924, the great social critic H.L. Mencken wrote of prohibition: Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.
Prohibition of alcohol and the ensuing smuggling of alcohol lead to criminalization. Participants in an illegal trade cannot use the legal and judicial system to resolve disputes. So, they use other methods such as violence. Consumers also cannot seek redressal for spurious substances. Below are some more facts related to prohibition.
• Jeffrey A. Miron of Boston University wrote, “Prohibition can increase demand (of alcohol) through Forbidden Fruit Effect”.
• Prohibition clearly benefited some people. Notorious bootlegger Al Capone made $60,000,000… that’s sixty million dollars… per year (untaxed!) while the average industrial worker earned less than $1,000 per year. (Schlaadt, R. G. Alcohol Use and Abuse. Guilford, CT: Dushkin, 1992,)
• Some bootleggers used recipes that included iodine, creosote, or even embalming fluid (Asbury, 1968, pp. 272-273, 283). The resulting problems caused financial burdens to the nation, but bootleg, being untaxed, deprived the treasury of much needed revenue. (National Prohibition of Alcohol in the U.S. by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.)
• Many groups and individuals tried their best to make prohibition a success. For instance anti alcohol Robert Wood Johnson Foundation developed and funded large nationwide network of temperance oriented organizations and individuals. In four years it had invested over a quarter billion dollars ($230,000,000) to promote its anti alcohol policy agenda.
• At the Govt. level, the amount US spent on enforcement of prohibition are $ 6,350,000 (1920), $ 28,500,000 (1923) and few years later $ 300,000,000. Finally, when prohibition ended, the popular votes for repeal of prohibition were 74% in favour and 26 % in opposition and only half of the breweries that had previously existed reopened (Childs1947).
Coming to our own figures, during the public discussion, Chief Minister Nagaland has been very modest about the implication of revenue out of alcohol being more concerned about the economic loss of alcohol consumers. The Church on the other hand may say, “We do not want to thrive on revenue earned out of alcohol”. But, the fact is that Nagaland is revenue starved. Our revenue is barely 5-6 percent of our total non-plan expenditure and every bit of revenue increase counts. Exploring revenue from alcohol will have strong economic impact. Consider the Excise Department’s figure of Rs. 110 Crores/annum revenue loss because of prohibition. Consider also the present funding pattern of 90:10, wherein, the share of the State Government is 10% on almost all central development schemes. Again consider also the fact that because of negligible State’s own revenue many central programs suffers because the State is unable to pay its 10% share. Then if Rupees 100 Crores out of the 110 Crores could be utilized as the State’s share for central schemes, for the State, it could mean Rupees 1000 Crores worth development (say 8-10 Crores/dictrict!). Lifting prohibition will also mean 5-6 times less expenditure on alcohol by liquor consumers. Current expenditure on alcohol consumption could be anywhere between 500-600 Crores per annum.
I would like to conclude by sharing with readers, narration from a video clip that I came across not very long ago. The clip was taken in 1920 during the start of alcohol prohibition in the USA during which, millions of gallons of alcohol were destroyed. In the clip, you can see very enthusiastic men destroying alcohol (their facial expression says all), crowd of curious onlookers. In this interesting pied of human activity, I noticed one gentleman with suspender held long pants which was somewhat ungentlemanly shorter, rolled up sleeves with sleeveless jacket and a sling bag over his back, drinking as much alcohol he could collect in his cup before the spirit flowed into the gutters. It was a hilarious continence! I thought, it can only happen in America! But, Fellow Nagas, I stand corrected! Sometime back, I was narrated of an incident of a similar picture that happened in our own homeland in one of our district head quarters. Our own gentlemen similarly, tried to salvage his likened spirit as much as possible from alcohol destruction site and obviously got drunk and slept there at the destruction site. Following the American way almost 100 years later? What understanding I got and can share with readers is that, in the stage of alcohol prohibition we will always have two main actors. On one hand will be the vocal actor who will want to destroy alcohol to its available last drop! On the other hand, it will be the silent actor who will try to salvage the last drop of the spirit! It has happened, it is happening and it will happen, whatever is the level of prohibition standard. Today, apparently, there is a consensus feeling among the secular public and organizations of the State for review of the Prohibition Act. The Government of the day will have to ultimately decide on what is best for its people. My personal feeling is that we should sooner than later decide the American way and lift the prohibition.
Lastly, if we try to look at the smoking side of the fence, Anti-tobacco campaign has substantially achieved its objectives. Public utility areas are now more or less free of the usual tobacco smoke stench and I believe that there is a significant reduction in the numbers of smokers. If a village (Gariphema of Kohima District) in Nagaland can achieve tobacco free status, it definitely can be replicated in other places and also areas of substance abuse including alcohol. Lifting of prohibition of alcohol should simultaneously be followed by adoption of a strong people centric anti-alcohol consumption campaign and galvanize our effort on that line rather than prohibition of its sales and consumption. When I say people centric, I do not mean only people who are already alcohol consumers but the families specially the nascent ones, the youths and specially people with susceptible tendencies. What better agencies can we have than the Churches, the Women Organizations and the AA who can be financially empowered by the State Govt. for such campaigns?