By Sujit Chakraborty
Aizawl/Kohima, July 30 (IANS): The two predominantly Christian northeast states of Mizoram and Nagaland continue to be “completely dry”, but the ban is not effectively implemented in Nagaland where the alcohol ban came into force 33 years ago.
The Nagaland Total Prohibition of Liquor Act 1989 (NLTP) prohibits the possession, sale, consumption, manufacture, import and export of liquor.
Replacing the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) or MLPC Act 2014, after enacting the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition) Act 2019, the Mizo National Front (MNF) government imposed the ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol on May 28, 2019.
In Mizoram, following the government crackdown on the wine trade, there is confusion over the sale and consumption of grape wine.
But often, a debate surfaces in the public domain about whether the ban should have more teeth or be relaxed altogether in both states.
Suggesting the ban be lifted, ruling National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) lawmaker KT Sukhalu said revenue generated from the sale of alcohol could be used to improve education and health facilities.
Sukhalu, an advisor for school education, said the revenue generated by the state is not enough to improve health and education facilities.
He called last week for the NLTP law to be lifted.
Noting that many people will not take his suggestion, the lawmaker clarified that he does not support alcohol consumption, but claimed that fake alcohol is available in every nook and corner of the mountain state. .
“We tested local alcohol samples available in Nagaland, and all of them turned out to be fake,” Sukhalu said.
Labor shortage is one of the big hurdles for the Excise Department of Nagaland in its efforts to properly implement the NLTP Act of 1989 in the state.
A senior official cited the example of Mizoram, which had a population of 12.6 lakh but had a sanctioned strength of 559 excise officers compared to 335 in Nagaland for a population of nearly 20 lakh.
“Given the size of Nagaland’s population, the excise department needed about 1,020 people to effectively enforce the prohibition law,” the official told IANS, declining to be named.
He said Mizoram NGOs are very proactive in enforcing the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition) Act 2019, but in Nagaland this is lacking.
According to the official, the estimated revenue generation of the Excise Department of Nagaland was around Rs 250 crore to Rs 300 crore.
Mizoram Excise and Narcotics Minister K. Beichhua said the state government had enacted the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition) Act 2019 to protect future generations from the threat of the alcohol and drugs and to establish a clean Mizo company.
He said the state government was losing revenue to the tune of Rs 60 to Rs 70 crore per year after the enactment of the law, but the loss of revenue is far less than the loss of human life and suffering. “A greater societal benefit is more vital.”
Mizoram was a dry state for about 18 years, until the previous Congress government in January 2015 lifted the ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol. Liquor stores then began to flourish in the Christian-dominated state.
Beichhua said several hundred people, mostly young men, died from alcohol consumption and in traffic accidents after the ban was lifted.
In fact, some political pundits are blaming Congress’ liberal liquor policy for its debacle in its last political stronghold in 2018 Assembly polls.
Since 2003-04, several hundred farmers in Mizoram have been growing various varieties of grapes, including the Bangalore Blue variety under the National Technology Mission for wine making.
In 2007, the Mizoram government relaxed the Mizoram Total Liquor Ban Act 1995, allowing wine to be made with up to 14% alcohol.
Influential churches in Mizoram are concerned that grapes with high alcohol content serve as a substitute for hard drinks in a dry state.
The recent crackdown on wines made in Mizoram by state Department of Excise and Narcotics officials has sparked a serious backlash, with winemakers, winemakers and netizens denouncing the government’s action on social media and various other platforms.
While those involved in the trade accused the Mizoram government of ‘waging war’ on state-owned horticultural products, officials who carried out the raids said the crackdown was aimed at preventing the free sale of Korean wines .
Joining the uproar, Mizoram’s only Bharatiya Janata party MLA, Buddha Dhan Chakma, said he could not understand the Mizoram government’s policy on banning alcohol because the same wine, which had been seized, had recently been served to a visiting Union Minister.
Excise officers have recently raided department stores in the Millennium Centre, Aizawl’s largest malls and hotels, seizing huge amounts of wine, both imported and locally made.
The Opposition Congress has demanded the resignation of Excise and Narcotics Minister Beichhua following the death of a saleswoman, who allegedly suffered from depression after losing her livelihood after authorities seized quantities significant amounts of locally processed bottled grape wines in his store.
The 52-year-old widow Lalhriatpuii’s main sources of income were the grape wines she sold at her store, Congress leaders claimed.