If there’s one business in India that’s been attracting a disproportionately large amount of attention this year, even and especially from state legislatures and the judiciary, it’s the business of liquor.
Only about a month ago, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told the people of Amritsar, Punjab, that he would ban liquor and meat around the area of the Golden Temple if his party was voted to power in the state. Now, that might seem consistent with the chief minister’s overall vision of banning liquor or removing nashamukti, or addiction, as he had stated in his 70-point manifesto before the Delhi assembly election. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi even announced that it will not issue liquor licenses to hotels and bars until the end of this financial year.
This “consistency” would certainly be admirable – if only he meant what he promised.
From the list of liquor licensees released by ex-AAP leader and founding member of Swaraj Abhiyan, Yogendra Yadav, it seems like Kejriwal has been hypocritical, with his state government granting 399 liquor licences in 365 days – more than one a day. So maybe the real consistency he is displaying here is promising a liquor ban to get voted to power.
But it’s not only Arvind Kejriwal or AAP that has been marching to the liquor ban drum. Consider, for instance, the cases of Kerala and Bihar.
The Bihar government on Sunday (2 October) had enforced a new prohibition law, two days after the Patna High Court had struck down the previous prohibition law, calling it draconian. Now, the latest to join this circus is the Supreme Court, which today (7 October) stayed the Patna High Court order quashing the Bihar government’s ban on liquor.
In Kerala, which records the highest per capita consumption of liquor in the country at 8.3l – more than double the national average of 4l, the alcohol sales have not reduced but gone underground, encouraging a thriving black market. Even tourism in the state has been affected severely as a result of the liquor ban, as a government minister admitted towards the end of September.
Here we have a situation where the state legislature or the judiciary keep trying to beat each other over either reinstating or quashing liquor bans. Ultimately, what the government really needs to do is stay out of the alcohol business to the greatest extent possible and contribute earnestly in the one area that it can and should – transparent issuing of licenses or even getting rid of license quota permit raj in this business. This alone will prevent the political mess surrounding the alcohol business.
But then, will the politicians agree to part with all the money that they stand to make by simplifying liquor policies? Maybe not.
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