Kerala, the largest consumer of booze in the country, has taken the first step towards a complete prohibition of alcohol in the state in the next 10 years. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government finalised this in a two-hour meeting deciding on the excise policies of the state. Chief minister Oommen Chandy said after the meeting that the UDF recommendation will have to be ratified by the state cabinet. Once this is done, it will be sent to the Kerala High Court as a policy to make it into a police decision.
Media reports say that the government had closed down 418 bars since April while 312 bars would not have their licenses renewed after March, 2015. After that, only five-star hotels will be granted bar licenses. This decision is backed by the Muslim League and the Christian dominated Kerala Congress and in many ways could be seen as a political decision. But with a ban on alcohol, Kerala will suffer in terms of revenue and tourism. Here are three reasons why we think banning alcohol in a state is not okay:
One, there is hardly any explanation for scrapping licenses of local bars while allowing five-star hotels to continue to sell it, unless the state prohibits the sale, consumption or prohibition of alcohol completely. This would mean prohibition for the working class, while those who can afford it, can continue drinking. By increasing taxes on tobacco or alcohol, the government follows the WHO principle by which people should not be able to afford "sin" goods. But by giving out licenses only to five-star hotels, it sends out a message saying it is okay only for the super rich to continue drinking.
Two, banning of alcohol, when not implemented properly, will only lead to the creation of a black market, where prices, consumption and above all, quality will remain beyond control. Prohibition is also practiced in Gujarat, Mizoram and parts of Manipur, but bootlegging is impossible to avoid in these states. Other states like Haryana and Andhra Pradesh have also tried their hands at prohibition but gave up due to leakages.
Prohibition was also prevalent in the United States from 1920-33 but was repealed in 1933. In 1930, bootlegger George Cassiday wrote in the Washington Post how he had sneaked in alcohol for 10 members of Congress.
Thirdly, a more troubling problem is the moral policing that the state thinks it has a right to. The state takes a "holier-than-thou" stand where it tells the people what they should or should not do. So they shut down dance bars in Mumbai, tell bars to shut by 1.30 am at night, and judge women for visiting pubs.
It's about time people voiced their opinion against the government's moral policing of the kind that also discriminates among sections of the society.