Liquor Prohibition – A critical Analysis

Mains Test Series


Recently, Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) found that prohibition is making people of Bihar spend more on good clothes and food.


  • Prohibition is the illegality of the manufacturing, storage in barrels or bottles, transportation, sale, possession, and consumption of alcohol including alcoholic beverages, or a period of time during which such illegality was enforced.
  • In India, Alcohol consumption has always been overshadowed by a sense of moral judgment that has driven the demands for prohibition. Consequently, policies related to the consumption of alcohol are generally shaped by this moral ambiguity rather than a comprehensive liquor policy.

Constitutional provisions

  • In the aftermath of independence, the Indian government did not impose a centralized regulation regarding alcohol consumption.
  • Under 7th schedule it is a subject of state list.
    • The entry 51 in the State List makes “Alcohol for human consumption” a subject matter of states. This provides states the power to make laws and charge duties on alcoholic liquors for human consumption.
  • Article 47 under directive principles directs the states to take measures to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.
    • This article directs that the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.
    • Most liquor ban policies are justified on the basis of this article.

Prohibition in India

  • At the moment, complete prohibition is enforced in the states of Gujarat, Bihar, Nagaland, and the union territory of Lakshadweep.
    • In Gujarat, prohibition is implemented since its formation in 1960.
    • In Nagaland, Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act (NLTP) banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in 1989.
  • Bihar government has put a complete prohibition of alcohol in the state in 2016

  • Gujarat and Bihar are the states that prescribe death penalty for manufacturers, suppliers and sellers of hooch in cases of death due to spurious liquor consumption
  • Kerala currently allows alcohol to be served in three star hotels and above, bars and airports.
    •  In 2014, congress government in Kerala advocate for total prohibition in phased manner.
    • But, ban was eased when left government came in power in 2016 citing loss in revenue and tourism Industry.
  • In Manipur there is a partial ban in a few districts.

  • Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, and Mizoram are states that have experimented with partial or complete ban on liquor.
  • In 2016, Supreme Court banned the sale of all liquor within 500m of highways to counter drunken driving.
    • However, SC later clarified that high way liquor ban imposed by it is not applicable to licensed bars and beverages outlets within municipal area.

Arguments in favour of prohibition

  • To reduce crime and corruption.
    • ADRI report on prohibition in Bihar noted there was a 66.6% dip in cases of kidnapping for ransom, followed by 28.3% dip in murder cases and 2.3% in dacoity.
  • To reduce the state’s expenditureotherwise spend on public health and law & order.
  • To improve health and hygiene.
    • ADRI report finds an impressive rise in sale of honey (380%), cheeses (200%), butter milk (40%), flavoured milk (28.4%) and lassi (19.7%)
  • To bring positive impact on women and families.
    • ADRI report observed that 58% women feel they were given more respect and played a better role in making household decisions
  • Prohibition helps money to get directed towards health and education in family. It paves way for development.
    • ADRI study on Prohibition in Bihar pointed out that 19% of households acquired new assets from the money they earlier splurged on alcohol.
  • In India, the common mass is generally occasional drinker. Curtailing alcohol supply will in hand curtail their drinking behavior.
  • According to NCRB data, 15 people die every day – or one every 96 minutes – from the effects of drinking alcohol.
  • Many accidents are fuelled by alcohol.
  • Many a times it leads to sexual harassment of women and robberies.

Arguments against prohibition

  • Revenue from excise meant for welfare schemes to vulnerable sections is reduced.
  • Prohibition is contrary to fundamental right of freedom of choice and right to privacy as well.
  • It is against the customary culture and tradition of many societies.
    • During constituent assembly debate Jaipal Singh of Bihar opposed prohibition, speaking in favour of the adivasi communities that traditionally brewed and consumed alcohol.
  • It impacted the tourism and hospitality industry.
  • Sometimes it may lead to loss of business & investment opportunities from the states.
  • Carlsberg which had agreed to setup breweries plant in Patna had to relocate owing to Bihar liquor prohibition law.
  • It causes unemploymentand adversely affects livelihoods of many.
  • The whole process of production and consumption of alcohol becomes completely unregulated as it operates outside the radar of the government.
  • Instead of decreasing corruption, prohibition became a basis for corruption in public life.
  • The problem of adulterated and methanol related consumption of liquor increases.
  • It may lead to consumption of other unregulated drinks and drugs like taadi and mahua.
  • An additional expenditure in terms of investment in the personnel required to implement prohibition.
  • Women and families form part of the network of illicit liquor markets, either voluntarily or through coercion and/or due to economic compulsions.
Prohibition in US

  • Prohibition in the United States was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933.
  • Prohibition was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden, and improve health and hygiene in America.
  • But, many studies found that it is a failure on all accounts.

Aspects that need to be considered while framing a liquor policy

  • The principal reason why many prohibition strategy fail is because they seem to be based on the simplistic assumption that cutting off the supply impacts effective demand for alcohol.
  • State governments should have to be prepared to deal rapidly with the management of man-made disasters such as liquor tragedies.
  • Increase legal age of drinking and bring about uniformity in the same across all the states.
  • Ban marketing and advertisement of all kinds so as to contain its reach and spread.
  • De-addiction and rehabilitation centers should be made easily and widely accessible and be fully functional before any decision on prohibition is taken.
  • The medical fraternity needs to be educated in rapidly responding to and treating victims of liquor tragedies.
  • A stronger rule to monitor the use of methanol and frame policies that award a severe penalty for its diversion towards uses other than those for which it was acquired. Governments could consider linking de-addiction centers with primary health centers in rural areas.
  • Invest in creating better awareness among citizens about the negative impact of alcohol consumption.
  • Document good practices tried and tested by NGOs and other institutions for managing alcohol problems not only within the country but also outside the country.
  • Civil society should demand from its political parties a comprehensive policy that addresses all the related issues instead of uncritically demanding or accepting proclamations of prohibition.
  • Political parties need to have a clear vision of what they are trying to achieve—prevention of consumption of alcohol or liquor poisoning—as the two are contrary goals.
  • Community based approach should be adopted to tackle the problem of alcoholism.
    • Many addicted people struggle with a sense of isolation from their society. Community based approach would provide the addicts and their families with not only emotional support but also the validation of being part of a community.
  • A pragmatic approach that accepts drinking as part of the social culture and aims to regulate it is likely to be a more effective stance rather than taking a moralistic or emotional view that views drinking as the purveyor of all evils.
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