Patna: After thousands of ‘desi’ liquor shops were closed in rural Bihar following a partial liquor ban effective last Friday, the Nitish Kumar government has banned sale of ‘toddy’ also.
For millions of people in rural Bihar — where toddy, locally called ‘tadi’, is considered the poor man’s beer — it came as a bad news. For ages, toddy has been a favourite of villagers as a natural drink from the palm tree.
With reports pouring in from across the state that a large number of people, including alcoholics, thronged toddy shops after the government banned ‘desi’ or, country-made liquor in rural areas, a fresh directive of banning sale of toddy is likely to trigger protest.
According to the Nitish Kumar government’s decision, anyone found selling toddy would be arrested.
But the government has no objection if anyone is skilled enough to tap toddy on his own for self-consumption.
Meanwhile, former chief minister and president of Hindustani Awam Morcha Jitan Ram Manjhi on Sunday opposed the latest ban, saying it was wrong to ban sale of toddy in Bihar after banning countrymade liquor.
“Toddy is also consumed as medicine and even I have consumed toddy for 15 days. It is not proper to ban its sale. Most of the people in toddy business are from the Dalit community and poor people. The state government should reconsider the ban on its sale,” Manjhi said.
He said Rashtriya Janata Dal chief and former chief minister Lalu Prasad had declared toddy tax-free in Bihar to help people engaged in its business, particularly the ‘Pasi’ caste.
Unlike urban localities, the liquor ban has come into effect in entire rural Bihar as shops of ‘desi’, or country-made liquor, in 45,000 villages closed down late on Thursday night.
The Bihar government has banned country-made and spiced liquor, which had high consumption in rural areas. Indian-made foreign liquor, however, will be available for sale at government-run shops in urban areas.
The Bihar assembly last week unanimously passed the Bihar Excise (amendment) Bill, 2016, banning country-made liquor and vends and providing for death penalty for those found violating the ban on manufacture of and trade in illicit liquor in the event of a hooch tragedy.
In a first for Bihar, all members of the Bihar assembly and the legislative council also unanimously adopted a resolution that they would not consume liquor.
The state cabinet on late Thursday evening approved the new amendment and the state government formally issued a notification in this regard, an official in the Chief Minister’s Office here said.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who announced the alcohol ban from April 1 during campaigning for the 2015 assembly elections, was upbeat after the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was passed. He termed it a historic day.
Kumar has repeatedly said his government would do everything to discourage the drinking habit as it severely hits the poorest of the poor. The poor consume liquor, leading to family problems including domestic violence, affecting their children’s education.
“Women are suffering more than anyone else due to increasing liquor consumption,” he said.
According to officials, the ban decision is expected to impact the state government’s financial health.
Bihar got an annual revenue of around Rs 4,000 crore from liquor sales in 2015-16. Due to the ban, the government will lose revenue which it earlier got from the sale of country-made liquor.
But the government will still earn revenue of nearly Rs 2,000 crore from the sale of India-made foreign liquor.
To provide for livelihood to those involved in the liquor business, the government has offered to them sale of products of the state-run Bihar State Milk Cooperative Federation Ltd. under the brand name “Sudha Dairy”.
In the past also, Bihar had tried to ban liquor in 1977-78 under then chief minister Karpoori Thakur, a socialist veteran, but failed to implement it effectively.