This was a tough ask to deliver. Not that any other is easy in governance. But what sets the liquor prohibition apart is that no one in the past has been able to deliver it totally. The liquor lobby cheers to this one fact more than anything else. I am determined to change this track record of public policy.
It is impossible to imagine Mahatma Gandhi as an authoritarian. When it came to banning liquor, he made it a primary agenda. Gandhi wrote in Young India in 1931 - "If I was appointed dictator for one hour for all India, the first thing I would do would be to close without compensation all the liquor shops." His other quotes are no less sharp. For example, "Nothing but ruin stares a nation in the face that is prey to the drink habit. History records that empires have been destroyed through that habit."
The Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution mandates the State to make endeavour to bring prohibition. Even the Supreme Court has held that "there is no fundamental right to do trade or business in intoxicants. The State, under its regulatory power, has the right to prohibit absolutely every form of activity in relation to intoxicants and its manufacture, storage, export, import, sale and possession." The Apex Court further stated that this "power of control is an incident of the society's right to self-protection and it is rests upon the right of the State to care for the health, morals and welfare of the people."
When I had expressed the intent of liquor prohibition last year, it was an inspirational announcement. But what has followed in more than inspiration - long deliberations, extensive reviews and meticulous planning, both in policy and practice, has resulted in the state government deciding on Total Prohibition in Bihar - with an all-encompassing people's campaign and an appropriate law to back the implementation.
What followed has been transformational. It has to be experienced to be believed.
An awareness drive was launched through street plays, slogans and posters, which shaped into a massive public campaign. A resolution has been taken and signed by more than 1 crore 19 lakh guardians of children studying in government schools that they will not consume alcohol and even motivate others who drink to stay away from alcohol. A ''gram samvad dal'' in each panchayat visited households and read out an appeal regarding liquor prohibition and requested participation in spreading this awareness further. These gram samvad programs were held in more than 48,000 habitations with the participation of 5 lakh self-help groups and 20,000 village organizations. Social motivators, tola sewaks, education volunteers, health workers and various public groups were involved for writing slogans at public places against liquor and in support of prohibition. Such slogans can be seen at 9 lakh locations. Cultural events and street plays were organized in districts with the help of local groups of artistes. Through songs, plays and community discussions, more than 25,000 locations have been covered in the state.
On the invite of Jeevika, a women's self-help group, I attended their gatherings in each of the nine divisional headquarters. In total, about one lakh women self-help group members attended these programs. Their narrations of personal experiences and efforts opened a whole new dimension to an administrative decision. It was a revelation to see the seeds of a deep-seated social transformation in Bihar like never before. I reaffirmed to myself that there is no going back, whatever may be the consequence. Experiencing the socio-economic benefits and outcomes, I am more than determined to implement total liquor prohibition in Bihar in true letter and spirit.
However, the vested interest is powerful. Let us not forget that even in states where liquor has been banned, the ban is merely symbolic or partial. Countless articles have already proclaimed that liquor ban will not work in Bihar. I must say, for every word that has been written against the liquor ban in the last few months, there are numerous real families - women and children who have cheered for prohibition in Bihar and rest of India. I have openly requested the leadership in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand to ban liquor. Those calls have been cheered by people of the state, and yet, the leaders have looked the other way. Powerful they are, but they cannot shake the will of the people. I will continue to build upon the will of the people.
Bihar has pursued solid measures to enforce the ban. Socially, I have relentlessly encouraged the self-help groups and public representatives to demonstrate "social leadership" and strengthen the hands of the state and society in the continued implementation of the prohibition.
Bihar Prohibition and Excise Bill, 2016 is a decisive step. In simple words, it makes the violators directly accountable for their actions. The Bill states that "in case liquor is found or consumed in anyone's home, an adult member (from family - "man-wife & dependent children" occupying the house, not relatives) of the household will presumed to be having the knowledge of such an offence, unless proved otherwise. The bill, rather, protects the women of the household from a male adult who wishes to pin the blame away from him to any other member of family. Those criticizing this may care to advise as to the person to be arrested if, in a house, bottles of liquor are recovered, and no member of the family owns up to it. They should also enlighten us who should be arrested in a case if the house is in the name of the wife. Should the police either return empty-handed or commit a further travesty of justice by arresting the wife, knowing fully-well that in almost all the cases, it is the husband who drinks? Those criticizing are also presuming that the adult male member who is actually drinking and violating the law, will, when caught, be inhuman and cruel enough to share the accusation with his wife and adult children.
However, the truth is that these measures are a response to the administrative experience of the state in enforcing the ban. These problems, if unchecked, will lead to an unresponsive system of leakage which creates hooch tragedies. We have decided to nip this in the bud by placing direct accountability. We have also taken due care to protect people who might be vulnerable to exploitation by making a provision for serious penalty in case anyone in the administration machinery is found misusing the provisions of the Bill.
When we implemented the ban on country liquor on 1st April, 2016, stating that the total prohibition will be implemented in a phased manner, those in the opposition went on an overdrive calling for a total ban and asking us to disclose the dates of the next phase. When news of the people's agitation, especially women, against the opening of foreign liquor shops flowed in, we quickly gauged the mood of the populace and concluded that the environment was conducive for the imposition of total prohibition. Thus the total ban was imposed on April 5, 2016. Now the same people say that this was supposed to be done much later and we have acted in haste.
While framing this new Bill, many of the provisions have been borrowed from similar laws like the Bombay Prohibition Act, the Gujarat Amendment, Delhi Excise Act, Karnataka Excise Act, Model Excise Act circulated by Government of India, the Madhya Pradesh Prohibition Bill (draft); the majority of the provisions are from the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act 2016, which was unanimously approved by both houses of the Bihar state assembly. One will have to go into details to come up with an informed criticism. You cannot just criticize the law without suggesting the alternatives. It requires more than just playing to the galleries.
As expected, the vested interest has gone into a massive overdrive to misinform people about the Act, even though almost all of the penal provisions of the Bill are the same which were unanimously passed by both houses of the state assembly in the budget session this year. Politics have overtaken a social initiative. Some are selectively criticizing few provisions of the new Act without reading the same holistically. They are missing the larger picture with too much emphasis on letters and without recognizing the spirit. To them, I have to say - "you cannot have the cake and eat it too." If one is serious and determined to see through prohibition in Bihar, then there is no place for "ifs" and "buts". A combination of a fair and strict implementation of law coupled with an inspired people's campaign is a way to go.
So, I want to set the record straight. Those who violate the ban on liquor in Bihar, appropriate measures will be taken to place accountability. But at the same time, let me assure you of a fair implementation of the law. I am ready to incorporate the best ideas in making the prohibition successful and taking it to more states. Initially, even the BJP had supported the amendments in law and the decision to implement prohibition when it came to the Assembly for approval in March, but now, it seems as an afterthought, they have flip-flopped on the issue.
Some talk of my obsession and say that I have no other agenda. This is a biased, distorted view. I enumerated some facts to make my point. Since coming to power in November last year, the state government has tirelessly worked on its developmental agenda. The Programs of Good Governance 2015-2020 were detailed and subsequently approved by the cabinet in the month of December. For the mission mode implementation of the 7 Resolves for Developed Bihar and all other programs of good governance, the Bihar Vikas Mission was conceived and constituted in January 2016. During this time, all the departments have been diligently working to design and formulate the schemes and programs for time-bound implementation of the 7 Resolves. Approval has been accorded by the state government to most of the schemes and they are in various stages of implementation. We have even implemented one of our 7 Resolves: to give 35% reservation to women in all state government appointments.
Continuing our policy of empowering citizens of Bihar, the Right to Public Grievance Redressal Act, 2015 - a major initiative in administrative reforms - has been brought into force on the Sampoorna Kranti Diwas and on World Environment Day, 5 June, Bihar became the first state to draft a Disaster Risk Reduction Road Map (2015-2030). A target has been set for the inauguration of an integrated action plan for youth - with schemes like Student Credit Card, Self Help Allowance & Kushal Yuva from October 2 this year, for which extensive preparations are under way in terms of infrastructure, man-power and systems. In a short span of six to eight months, almost all major policy issues have been settled and initiatives taken for an unhindered implementation of the 7 Resolves. If one chooses to ignore these, it is one's own fixation and prejudiced agenda that is exhibited.
But let me assure all, in Bihar, there will be no half measures. I will stand my ground. My government is committed to translating the aspirations and the will of millions who reposed their faith and mandate in us, to turning the tide of underdevelopment, and initiating the state towards a promising future of growth, prosperity and harmony. I have full conviction that the people are with us.
(Nitish Kumar is Chief Minister of Bihar)
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