After MP CM Shivraj, Chhattisgarh's Raman Singh announces phased liquor ban

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar presents a memento to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh at a meeting in Patna on Tuesday. Photo: PTI
After Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister (CM) Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced a phased ban on liquor on Monday, Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh on Tuesday said he would also introduce phased prohibition in his state.

He announced this in Bihar's Munger, after a meeting with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, who has emerged as an icon for the pro-prohibition movement after implementing a liquor ban in his state in April 2016.

Not just Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, but other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states are likely to come under increasing pressure from activist groups to impose a liquor ban. Gandhian activists and women's groups hope to raise awareness for the ban in BJP-ruled Maharashtra and Rajasthan. In Uttar Pradesh, another BJP-ruled state, there have been several anti-liquor protests by women's groups after the Yogi Adityanath government took office.

The Nasha Mukt Bharat Andolan, or the movement to rid India of alcoholism, led by activist Medha Patkar and other Gandhians, will hold a meeting in Nagpur on Wednesday to demand a ban on liquor in Maharashtra. The meeting will be held at Deeksha Bhoomi, famous for its association with Dalit icon and architect of the Constitution, B R Ambedkar.

Ever since the Bihar CM banned the sale of liquor in his state in April 2016, which was apparently received well on the ground, Madhya Pradesh had witnessed sustained protests and anti-liquor public rallies led by Gandhian activists. In several incidents across the state, women's groups had picketed liquor vends, especially those in residential areas, which forced Chouhan to announce the ban. The Bihar CM had also addressed anti-liquor meetings in Madhya Pradesh, and has emerged as an icon for Gandhian activists. The cause has helped bring together Hindu and Muslim religious leaders on the same platform, as Islam strongly disapproves consumption of alcohol.

On Tuesday, senior Narendra Modi government strategists seemed to be aware of the challenge that Chouhan's decision poses, but were unsure about how to deal with it. Senior government ministers said a ban on liquor would ruin the finances of Madhya Pradesh and said they would try and dissuade Chouhan from imposing such a ban. They said that unlike Nitish Kumar-ruled Bihar that has no development model or industry and used prohibition as a ploy to divert peoples' attention, Chouhan has turned around Madhya Pradesh.

But they admitted that the Supreme Court order banning sale of liquor on national and state highways would mean shifting of these liquor vends into the villages and residential areas in the vicinity, which is likely to be met by protests. This has been the experience in Madhya Pradesh when the state banned liquor vends within 5 sq km of the Narmada Parikrama Yatra.

Protests, particularly from women, erupted when these vends shifted nearer to residential areas.

At the launch of the celebrations to mark the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi's Champaran Satyagraha in Patna on Monday, Gandhians praised Nitish Kumar for implementing prohibition. The Bihar CM said he was "disgusted" that some state governments were trying to circumvent the Supreme Court decision on a liquor ban along the national and state highways. Some states have or were trying to reclassify highways, to get around the court order.

Kumar said Rajasthan was worried about losing Rs 6,700 crore annually because of prohibition, when he didn't worry about Bihar losing Rs 5,000 crore a year. He said after a year of prohibition, Bihar has saved Rs 10,000 crore as people were spending more on healthier food. Mahatma Gandhi's grandson and former West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, retired judge Rajinder Sachar, Patkar and others lauded Nitish Kumar's decision on liquor ban.

In Delhi, Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan-led Swaraj Abhiyan had led protests against opening of liquor vends in residential colonies, forcing the Arvind Kejriwal government to shut down some of these in recent months.

But the Supreme Court order and the pro-prohibition movement has worried states such as Goa and Rajasthan, where the tourism industry is a big revenue earner. At a National Democratic Alliance meeting in Delhi on Monday, the Goa Forward Party (GFP) raised the concern of the state's tourism industry following a ban on playing loud music at night and the Supreme Court order on liquor shops.

GFP leader and state minister Vijay Sardesai said such bans affected trade as Goa was a prominent tourist and wedding destination. The GFP sought the Centre's intervention to save thousands of liquor outlets along national and state highways.

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