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Spurious Liquor

  • 06 November, 2021

  • 5 Min Read

Spurious Liquor

Context: This topic is important for UPSE Prelims and GS Paper 2.

Alcohol: Alcoholic beverages are made by fermentation of sugary and starchy substances, followed by distillation to increase alcohol concentration. The active ingredient in them is ethyl alcohol or ethanol

          Illicit liquor (Hooch): 

  • Any alcoholic beverage made under unlicensed conditions is called illicit liquor. Usually, sub-standard raw material is used, often this is spiked with other chemicals. 
  • The term hooch is popular slang for illicit liquor. The origin of the term hooch is said to come from the Hoochinoo Indians of Alaska. 

What makes it poisonous?  

  • Under unregulated conditions, methanol or methyl alcohol can be produced with the desired ethanol. 
  • Sometimes, industrial methyl alcohol or denatured spirit (mixture of ethanol and methanol) is added by illicit brewers to save costs and in mistaken belief that it’ll increase potency. 
  • Methyl alcohol is extremely toxic — 10 ml can cause blindness and 30 ml can cause death within 10 to 30 hours. It is like ethyl alcohol in taste and smell. 

Treatment: 

      • Ethyl alcohol and fomepizole are used as antidotes, inhibiting metabolizing of methyl alcohol so that it passes through urine. 
      • Advanced treatment requires haemodialysis to remove toxic substances from bloodstream.

Alcohol prohibition in India 

  • Alcohol prohibition is in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, and Nagaland. All other Indian states and union territories permit the sale of alcohol.
  • The directive principles of state policy (DPSP) in the constitution of India (article 47) state that "the State shall endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health". The Directive Principles are not-justiciable rights of the people but fundamental in the governance of the country. It shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making policy laws per Article 47. As Per Article 38, state and union governments, as duty, shall make further detailed policies and laws for implementation considering DPSPs as fundamental policy.
  • National prohibition was advocated by Mahatma Gandhi, as well as by many Indian women. Prohibition in the states of India that have implemented the policy has led to lower rates of drinking among men, as well as a decreased incidence of violence against women.

Dry Days in India 

  • Dry Days in India are specific days when the sale of alcohol is prohibited in the states which otherwise allow the sale and consumption of alcohol.
  • Dry Days are fixed by the respective state government. Most Indian states observe dry days on major religious festivals/occasions depending on the popularity of the festival in that region.
  • National holidays such as Republic Day (26 January), Independence Day (15 August) and Gandhi Jayanti (2 October) are usually dry days throughout India. Dry days also depend on the establishment selling alcohol. For example, generally, 5-star hotels do not have to observe all the dry days that liquor stores and small bars may have to.
  • Dry days are also observed on and around voting days. National dry days also occur during the Election Commission of India-ordained voting and result days.

Bihar

  • On 26 November 2015, Bihar Government announced that alcohol would be banned in the state from 1 April 2016. The government officially declared the total ban on 5 April 2016 on all types of liquor, its Sale [and consumption] of any type of alcohol in hotels, bars, clubs, and any other place. 
  • Violating the law carries a penalty of 5 years to 10 years imprisonment. On 30 September 2016 Patna High Court ruled that the ban is "illegal, impractical and unconstitutional". 
  • Although even before the High Court order came, the Bihar government had announced a new stringent law from 2 October 2016.
  • As per the new liquor law, those found indulging in unlawful import, export, transport, manufacture, possession, sale, intoxicant, or liquor could attract a minimum of 10 years of jail term which may extend to imprisonment for life besides a minimum fine of Rs 1 lakh which may extend to Rs 10 lakh.
  •  On 3 October 2016, the Bihar government approached the Supreme Court of India challenging the High Court order.
  • The Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice T. S. Thakur agreed to give an urgent hearing on the matter and on 7 October 2016, much to the relief of the government, the bench stayed the high court order. "Ban on liquor and fundamental rights do not go together," the SC bench said. 
  • The act brought in stricter measures, with all Sections in the act being non-bailable and the police being allowed to assume that manufacturing of alcohol was ongoing if utensils containing a mix of jaggery or grapes are found. Under the law, only special courts constituted under Bihar Special Courts Act can try the cases. It also empowered authorities to confiscate properties upon whose premises liquor is either consumed or stored. 

Socio-economic effects in Bihar

  • Within a year of prohibition, the number of murders and gang robberies decreased by 20%. The number of riots fell by 13% and traffic accidents were reduced by 10%. 
  • For the economy, spending per household rose: increase in sales of milk by 10%, cheese by 200%, two-wheeled vehicles by 30%, and electrical appliances by 50%.
  • In villages, brick houses are gradually taking the place of more rudimentary cottages since state Prohibition came into effect. At the same time, substance abuse has increased significantly due to liquor being hard to access.

Gujarat

  • Bombay State had prohibition between 1948 and 1950, and again from 1958. Gujarat has a sumptuary law in force that proscribes the manufacture, storage, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
  • The legislation has been in force since 1 May 1960 when Bombay State was bifurcated into the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949 is still in force in Gujarat state, however, there is licensing regime in Maharashtra with granting licenses to vendors and traders.
  • Gujarat is the only Indian state with a death penalty for the manufacture and sale of homemade liquor that results in fatalities. The legislation is titled the Bombay Prohibition (Gujarat Amendment) Act, 2009. The legislation was prompted by numerous deaths resulting from the consumption of methyl alcohol.
  • Predictably, smuggling and illicit sale of alcohol are very common. "Folder" is a slang term of unknown origin, used in Gujarat to refer to a bootlegger who delivers alcohol on-demand.

Permits

  • Foreigners and visitors from other parts of India can apply online for a permit. There are 35 stores across the state including nine in Ahmedabad that sell liquor on production of a physical copy of the permit. Once the permit expires, users are to hand-over the unconsumed liquor to the district collector.

Public Interest Litigation

  • Five petitions, including Public Interest Litigation (PIL), have been filed before the Gujarat High Court challenging the prohibition law in the state. Most petitioners have raised concern that prohibition law violates Right to Privacy and are seeking relaxation on consumption in privacy.

Mizoram

  • The Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act, 1995 banned sale and consumption of alcohol effective from 20 February 1997. In 2007, the MLTP Act was amended to allow wine to be made from guavas and grapes, but with restrictions on the alcohol content and the volume possessed. It is illegal to transport these products out of the state.
  • Mizoram repealed prohibition on 10 July 2014, a period of 17 years after it had been imposed. On that date, the state Legislative Assembly passed the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Act, 2014 (MLPC Act), replacing the MLTP Act. The Presbyterian Church had organised mass prayers in all member churches across the state twice that year opposing the repeal of prohibition.
  • The Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Act, 2014 was repealed on 20 March 2019 with the Mizoram Liquor Prohibition Act, 2019, it was a legislation promised by the Mizo National Front. Rules are yet to be notified for the ban in the state.

Nagaland

  • The Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act, 1989 (NLTP Act) banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in 1989. Enforcement of the ban is lax and Indian Made Foreign Liquor is readily available. Authorities generally turn a blind eye towards illegal sales. Reports have stated that some police officials themselves engage in bootlegging. The Congress party has termed prohibition a "total failure" and has pleaded for it to be revoked.
  • The excise department had earned around ?600 lakh (equivalent to ?50 crore or US$6.6 million in 2020) prior to prohibition. It earned about ?10 lakh (US$13,000) annually in NLTP Act related fines as of June 2014. It is estimated that were about 500 illegal liquor bars in Dimapur, the largest city in the state, as of August 2014. Alcohol is also smuggled in from neighbouring Assam.

 EDITORIAL- The cost of prohibition

The spurt in hooch tragedies in 2021 points to the failure of the alcohol ban policy in Bihar

  • The deaths in the last few days of at least 25 people in Bihar’s Gopalganj and West Champaran districts and five in Muzaffarpur apart from several others taking ill after consuming spurious liquor points to the unintended but not unexpected consequences of the total prohibition law that has been in effect in the State for more than five years.
  • Hooch tragedies such as these are a consequence of the unregulated production and sale of liquor via the black market, and the use of illicit liquor as a substitute due to the lack of the sale of over-the-counter and regulated drinks.
  • Prohibition as a policy has been shown up as inadequate to curb the problem of alcoholism and the havoc wreaked by it on households due to excessive consumption for a variety of reasons in State after State.
  • In Bihar, implementation has not been without immense public support, especially among rural women.
  • Yet, despite significant steps taken to enhance enforcement by officials from the excise department, the police and local administration — over 3.46 lakh people arrested in the last five years and close to 150 lakh litres of country-made and Indian Made Foreign Liquor being seized from April 2016 to February 2021 — weaknesses in imposing the ban persist.
  • It is well known that one of the negative externalities of prohibition is the creation of a parallel bootlegger economy that could lead to an increase in violent crime, and this seems to be borne out in Bihar as well.
  • The Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, has been the strongest proponent of prohibition in the State and the policy has reaped electoral dividends for his party, the Janata Dal (United) and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, as rural women have overwhelmingly welcomed the ban on alcohol.
  • While initially, the ban on alcohol consumption helped rural households increase expenditure on basic goods related to food and education, there are reports from rural Bihar showing how these benefits have waned as spurious consumption is on the rise.
  • Reportedly, illicit liquor in the State claimed at least 60 lives in 2021, much higher than the six deaths recorded by the National Crime Records Bureau’s report on accidental deaths and suicides in India in 2020.

Way Forward

  • The scale of the rise in hooch incidents and deaths should set alarm bells ringing about the inability of the administration in curbing the black market in liquor sales and consumption.
  • Bihar Government insists that the success of prohibition is only a matter of implementation of the law and in a way has blamed the deaths on the ignorance of those who consumed spurious liquor.
  • But the fact that these deaths persist should alert the government to the misgivings with the idea of total prohibition as a magic bullet in a State marked by weaknesses in institutions and low overall human development.

 

 

Source: The Hindu

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