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The Indian Liquor Industry Prohibition Story


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Soon after independence, prohibition was imposed in the erstwhile state of Bombay. The first large-scale movement against alcohol began in the 1970s, when rural women in various parts of the country protested against the sale of liquor in their villages. Explaining this, a news report commented, "Tortured to intolerable limits by the abuse and beatings of drunk husbands and the hunger and poverty in which their children grow and die, women have taken up chilly powder, broomsticks, kerosene and match boxes as weapons of war."[2] Over the next two decades, this movement went on to encompass millions of rural women.

In 1990, the women of Dubagunta, a small village in the Nellore district of the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh began an anti-arrack agitation. They pressurized men to swear that they would stop drinking, physically restrained habitual drinkers, attacked liquor shops and godowns and fought with the police, liquor mafia and the drunks. The movement spread like wildfire to 800 villages throughout the state in a short period of time. Women in these 800 villages not only prevented the entry of liquor into their villages, but also prevented district collectors from holding arrack shop license auctions. It was reported that the women were beaten with rods, sticks, boots and rifle butts by the liquor contractors' henchmen as well as the police force. Non-bailable cases were filed against agitators who were then imprisoned. There were even reports that many women activists were raped and murdered.

These events soon become a matter of national debate and eventually led to the then Congress government of Andhra Pradesh announcing a statewide ban on the sale of arrack from October 1993.

In the next state assembly elections, N T Rama Rao (NTR) of the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) promised total prohibition and made it the party's main election plank. The TDP won the polls and NTR announced total prohibition soon after becoming Chief Minister.

The AP government lost $ 362 million in annual revenues after the prohibition. Despite new taxes on vehicles and consumer goods, the state's budget deficit rose to $ 242 million. However, prohibition continued in the state till 1997. In that year, the new CM Chandrababu Naidu lifted the ban on liquor, claiming that he was forced to do so because of the state's financial problems. This move met with unprecedented criticism in the media. Critics claimed that the state could have easily avoided unnecessary expenditure on many other fronts, such as salaries and various subsidies.

Besides AP and Haryana, Gujarat, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Kerala and Tamil Nadu had also experimented with prohibition. While Gujarat continued to remain completely dry even in late 2001, Kerala and Tamil Nadu had opted for a partial-prohibition policy[3] . Ten months after prohibition was imposed in Haryana, two surveys making contradictory claims regarding the efficacy of prohibition were made public. While the government-sponsored survey claimed that prohibition was successful, the independent study said it had failed miserably. Covering all the districts of the state, the latter survey interviewed over 900 persons, of whom 54% felt that prohibition was a failure, 36% said it was partially successful, and only 8% said it was a success. The survey claimed that people were drinking openly and the police was simply ignoring them.







[2] Andhra Pradesh: The great betrayal,, April 29, 1997.

[3] Under a partial-prohibition policy, only country-made liquor is completely banned while trading is allowed in IMFL with certain restrictions.

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