Dry or Wet: What does it matter
According to Coalition Against Drugs and Alcohol (CADA), 53 per cent men and six per cent women consume liquor in Manipur. Local brews called ashaba and atingba are available in most areas, and authorities usually ignore their sale and consumption.
Manipur is once again in the news after a series of awards and recognition at the national level in different fields including governance and overall improvement. This time, it is No. 3 in national rankings regarding state-wise alcohol consumption. What is so special about Manipur in the third place is that we are an officially ‘dry’ state since the 90s. According to the National Family Health Survey 2019-20, more men in the state of Bihar consume alcohol than people in Maharastra or Goa.
The survey showed that while alcohol consumption is high in the southern state of Telengana, a much higher percentage of men consume alcohol in Bihar where there is total ban on liquor.
Telengana tops the chart in alcohol consumption followed by Sikkim, Manipur and Goa. The percentage of alcohol consumption in 15 plus population in the north-eastern states is much higher in Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura.
Prohibition was enforced in the state by the RK Ranbir Singh government with effect from 1 April 1991, following a total ban by the outlawed organisation Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). Local brews called ashaba and atingba are available in most areas, and authorities usually ignore their sale and consumption. In 2002, the Okram Ibobi Singh-led government lifted prohibition in the five hill districts of Manipur. The state legislative assembly passed the Manipur Liquor Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 2002 on 31 July 2002 lifting prohibition in the districts of Chandel, Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul. In 2015, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh stated in the Manipur state assembly that the state government was looking at the option of lifting prohibition in the state, but liquor ban still continues in the state.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Manipur government revived the move to lift prohibition citing widespread production of illicit liquor in certain areas of the state and their use by the general public leading to health problems. But, facing stiff opposition from civil society members for its proposed move to give licences to liquor producers in a bid to generate revenue, the government had to abandon the controversial Manipur Liquor Prohibition (Second Amendment) Bill, 2018, which was tabled in the state assembly. The powerful All Manipur Women’s Social Reformation and Development Samaj (Nupi Samaj), the original pro-prohibition women collective organised a rally in Imphal against the bill. The Coalition Against Drugs and Alcohol (CADA) also held a sit-in demonstration across the state. According to CADA, 53 per cent men and six per cent women consume liquor in the state and said it will be a “fatal mistake” to take the decision with a narrow view to improve the state’s economy.
We agree that, alcohol is the main cause of domestic strife and has the potential of the wayward youth seeking refuge in it thereby leading to abuse. But, the question we have to ask ourselves is whether we have been able to actually stop the production and sale of alcohol both local brew and India Made Foreign Liqour (IMFL) in the state. No, never in the history of mankind any state had been able to enforce prohibition in totality while on the other hand it only enriches black marketers and leads to spurious liquor finding its way in the backstreets. One has heard enough of tragic deaths across the country after consuming spurious liquor. The other serious problem is health related, where deaths from liver cirrhosis is mostly linked with consumption of adulterated liquor.
Everyone knows that IMFL comes in drums at Khatkati at the Assam-Nagaland border where it is bottled into different brands by using flavours and shipped to God knows where. It is happening on the Myanmar side also, from where high-end foreign brands come. So, the solution seems to be legalisation of production of our local brews and exporting it like Feni from Goa to the rest of the world for extra revenue in the state coffers and of lifting the ban.