Liquor Policy of States

In news: Bihar Hooch Tragedy and Alcohol Ban


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Alcohol laws

Mains level: Read the attached story


The official death toll from the latest hooch tragedy in “dry” Bihar has mounted to 38. Bihar has completely prohibited alcohol.

Alcohol Ban in India

  • India has a long history of banning alcohol, with prohibition a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution and also among the key Gandhian principles.
  • Gandhi wrote, “Alcohol makes a man forget himself and while its effects last, he becomes utterly incapable of doing anything useful. Those who take to drinking, ruin themselves and ruin their people.”

How the Indian constitution views alcohol?

  • One of the DPSP mentions that “in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”
  • While DPSPs are not in themselves legally enforceable, they set goals that the state should aspire towards to establish conditions under which citizens can lead a good life.
  • According to the Seventh Schedule, alcohol is a state subject, i.e. state legislatures have the right and responsibility to draft laws regarding it.
  • This includes “the production, manufacture, possession, transport, purchase and sale of intoxicating liquors.
  • Thus, laws regarding alcohol differ from state to state, falling in the whole spectrum between prohibition and private sale.

Why do all states not have prohibition?

Ans. Huge Liquor Revenues

  • While the Constitution sets prohibition on alcohol as a goal, for most states, it is very difficult to declare a ban on alcohol.
  • This is primarily because liquor revenues are not easy to ignore and have consistently contributed a large share of state governments’ revenue.
  • For instance, in Maharashtra, state liquor revenues amounted to Rs 11,000 crore in April 2020 (during the nationwide Covid lockdown), compared with Rs 17,000 crore in March.
  • The state government attributed much of this drop to the closure of liquor stores, later categorising them as an essential service, in part due to the industry’s contribution to tax revenues.
  • The day liquor stores were reopened, the Maharashtra government collected Rs 11 crore revenue from liquor sales in a single day.

States with complete ban

  • All states have some regulations with regards to alcohol consumption and sale (like age requirements or dry days).
  • Currently, there are five states with total prohibition and some more with partial prohibition:

(1) Bihar

  • Both the sale and prohibition of liquor was completely banned by the Nitish Kumar government back in 2016, in keeping with a promise made to the women of Bihar ahead of the Assembly polls.
  • Severe punishments were imposed on those found to be flouting the ban, including heavy fines and prison sentences.
  • Earlier this year, the Bihar government passed an amendment to its prohibition laws, which dials down on punishment to first-time “drinkers” and lets them get away with a fine rather than face arrest.
  • This was done to unclog Bihar’s already overcrowded jails and focus the government’s attention on sellers and distributors rather than consumers of liquor.

(2) Gujarat

  • Gujarat has had prohibition since it came into existence as a state in 1960.
  • In the 62 years since prohibition has been around in Gujarat, the Act has seen several amendments.
  • Notably, in 2009, then CM introduced the death penalty for sellers/producers if their spurious alcohol caused deaths.
  • However, Gujarat has provisions for special alcohol licences for hospitality establishments as well as individuals.

(3) Lakshadweep

  • The Union Territory bans both the consumption and sale of alcohol keeping in mind the culture and sentiments of its predominantly Muslim population.
  • However, the island of Bangram has a resort with a bar which is allowed to legally serve liquor.

(4) Mizoram

  • In 2019, Mizoram became a “dry state” once again after the new government reintroduced prohibition that was repealed in 2015.
  • Previously, Mizoram had seen prohibition for 18 years.
  • The Mizo National Front (MNF) government had prohibition as one of its most important pre-poll promises.
  • Here, the loss of revenue is much less than the loss of human life and suffering. Larger societal benefit is considered more vital.
  • Only military personnel and those with “medical needs” are allowed to consume alcohol.

(5) Nagaland

  • Nagaland introduced total prohibition in 1989 due to “moral and social” reasons, for the greater good of its citizens.
  • However, in recent times, the Naga government has mulled partially lifting prohibition due to various reasons.

Partial prohibitions in some states

  • Some states with partial prohibition are Karnataka, which specifically banned country-made arrack in 2007.
  • In Maharashtra, the districts of Wardha and Gadhricholi have banned on production and sale of liquor.
  • In Manipur, districts of Bishnupur, Imphal East, Imphal West and Thoubal have prohibition.
  • In 2014, then CM Oomen Chandy announced that Kerala would implement prohibition in a phased manner.
  • However, the state has since gone back on this promise.

Reason behind Bihar tragedy: Alcohol Ban

  • Critics have claimed that one of the reasons behind the tragedy is the state’s prohibition policy.
  • An official ban on alcohol leads to a thriving underground economy where such spurious alcohol is produced and sold.

Does prohibition really work?

  • Creates no deterrence: There is evidence to show that, prohibition creates opportunities for a thriving underground economy that distributes liquor, outside the regulatory framework of the state.
  • Rise of mafias: This creates its own problems, from strengthening organized crime groups (or mafias) to the distribution of spurious liquor.
  • No evidence of progress: In the case of Bihar, a year after prohibition was enforced, there was a spike in substance abuse.
  • Anti-poor: In the case of Bihar, a majority of cases registered under its prohibition laws are on the less privileged.

Limited benefits

  • Prevented crime against women: Various studies have provided evidence linking alcohol with domestic abuse or domestic violence. In India, prohibition has often been framed as a “women’s rights” issue.
  • Prevented domestic violence: Prohibition might have some limited benefits as well. Various studies have provided evidence linking alcohol with domestic abuse or domestic violence.


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