Aizawl: In Mizoram, some issues refuse to die down, year after election year. One such is alcohol. It is so potent that a decision to ban, prohibit or control it can swing fortunes in favour of one political party or the other. Almost every party has liquor on its manifesto, whether it is to let it flow freely, abstain from it or to have it in moderation.
While the opposition Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) are for an absolute ban on the sale and consumption of liquor, the Congress is in favour of selective prohibition. In fact, the then Cong government itself first banned alcohol in 1997 but relaxed norms by implementing the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Act, 2014.
So, the big question is: Will Mizoram turn into a ‘dry state’ once again after the polls? Or, will the relaxation as per the MLPC Act remain in place after the new government is formed on December 11?
The MNF, which is the pain opposition party in the state led by former chief minister Zoramthanga, promises to enforce a total ban on liquor by lifting the existing MLPC Act, if voted to power. The party claims that the Mizoram Pradesh Conmgress Committee (MPCC) has been promoting a "liquor culture" in the Christian-majority state.
Political parties’ insistence on prohibition stems largely from the staunch opposition to alcohol by the church and the Mizo civil society, both of which have an overarching influence in the state.
A study group formed by the state government carried out an analysis as per which the costs outweigh the benefits of allowing the sale of alcohol. "For every rupee, the state has earned as revenue, it has suffered a loss of Rs 2.85, accounting for expenditure on health and policing and loss of human resources, among other things,” said Francis Lalmalsawma Sailo, secretary of the Mizoram Liquor Vendors’ Association.
However, the report does not provide a similar analysis for the prohibition era. Meanwhile, officials in the excise and narcotics department told EastMojo that in the past two years, the state has earned over Rs 200 crore from the sale of alcohol since 2015 with revenue generated at Rs 72 crore in the financial year 2016-17 and Rs 68 crore in 2017-18.
The poll-bound state is also recurring a debate that a prolonged prohibition of any kind will only promote bootlegging, and at the same time taking a toll on the employment of owners and employees of bars and liquor stores.
“I think the opposition here has politicised the whole issue to attack the government. That is why they are trying to ban alcohol. This is only to attract the vote bank of the church and anti-alcohol groups. If prohibition is enforced, we are going back to square one and it will help flourish bootlegging of liquor from Assam, Bangaladesh and Myanmar,” said Sailo.
Sailo also pointed towards the increasing use of “BE”, a powder-like substance used as an alternative to rice, which is brought from Myanmar, in order to prepare country liquor at a cheaper cost. “The powder is mixed with water and later sold to the people in village areas. Its consumption has also caused several deaths in those areas,” he added.
The MLPC Act was enforced despite protests by several influential church organisations in the hill state. Currently, the state has 54 retail liquor shops of which 28 are in Aizawl. The capital city also has two bars.
Christian-majority Mizoram was a dry state until the enforcement of the MLPC Act. Following its enforcement, the ban on liquor was lifted but its sale and consumption regulated. From 2015 in the aftermath of the enforcement of the MLPC Act, the state’s Congress government started issuing liquor cards.
A card holder can buy, at the most, six bottles of liquor and 12 bottles of beer a month. The cards are issued by the state’s excise department to people aged over 21 years following payment of Rs 500 as registration fees and renewed annually through payment of Rs 300. Meanwhile, excise and narcotics department officials keep record of purchases at liquor stores.