Time for Gujarat govt to admit state’s decades-old prohibition policy is failing

In March 2022, the government informed the Gujarat Assembly that in 2020 and 2021, it seized hard liquor worth Rs 215 crore, country liquor worth Rs four crore and beer amounting to Rs 16 crore. Some 4,046 people accused of smuggling liquor into the state, producing country liquor or bootlegging, are still at large.

Forty six persons recently lost their lives after drinking illicit liquor in Botad and Ahmedabad districts. Whenever the government is questioned about strict implementation or the government’s commitment to prohibition, it is prompt in citing the seizures data.

Minister of State for Home Harsh Sanghvi said, “We have formed a state monitoring cell, it keeps an eye on smuggling of IMFL and country liquor and conducts raids across the state. It is also running a prohibition awareness campaign.”

According to the government budget papers, the state is allocating Rs four crore annually to create awareness about prohibition. But it is more for advertisements and administrative expenditure and less for one to one counselling or de-addiction centres or street plays, argues Hasmukh Patel, a social worker from North Gujarat.

Patel says, “For decades I have not seen “Nashabandhi Mandal” or “Nashabandhi Sanskar Kendra’s” programme on the streets, villages, so what these centres or NGOs involved in the promotion of prohibition are doing baffles me.”

For veteran politician Shankersinh Vaghela, “Prohibition policy has crumbled in the state and I am demanding a review of the policy”. He is in favour of relaxing the policy and creating employment by allowing local distilleries. These distilleries licenses should be given to youths from the Thakor Koli and tribal communities, who have been manufacturing liquor for generations.

Vaghela said that when a BJP district president is caught on camera under the influence of alcohol at a public event, BJP leaders’ family members are either caught drinking liquor or running a den or bootlegging, is it not itself explanatory how serious the government is about the prohibition policy.

The other indication of the lax implementation of the prohibition policy is evident from revenue versus the illegal market. Veteran crime reporter Prashant Dayal in an article stated, “the state government’s prohibition and excise department’s annual revenue is Rs 150 crore, but the illegal liquor market in the state is estimated to be Rs 25,000 crore.”

“The prohibition policy in the state exists only on paper, bootleggers in nexus with police officers and politicians are making liquor available at a price. It is impossible to implement prohibition cent per cent, because Gujarat is an island surrounded by non-prohibition states and Union Territories. Cent per cent prohibition is possible for a week or at the most a month, not more than that,” is the experience of Arjunsinh Chauhan, a former IPS officer.

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