As Bihar becomes the fifth state in India after Kerala, Manipur, Nagaland and Gujarat to implement total prohibition on drinking, there is a daily hide and seek being played out in the bordering districts between those used to drinking and authorities who are up to the task to ensure that they don’t.
Ever since Bihar implemented total prohibition on April 5, 2016, daily newspapers are replete with stories as to how small-time smugglers are now turning to bootlegging, especially with liquor procured from across the border in Nepal.
For example Monday’s newspapers have a news report along with the picture that says Sitamarhi town police recovered 144 bottles of Nepali liquor from two motorcycle-borne youths.
Along the long border between Bihar and Nepal, people in large numbers are crossing over to the Nepali side for drinking. Earlier, they would cross over to buy cheap Chinese products. But now, liquor outdoes every other product that is on sale at numerous shops at different entry points along the border.
In one case, a charash (hashish) factory in Parsa district was discovered by the Nepal Police. The factory was set up by some Indian men with the help of their Nepali associates as they believed the demand for the contraband will increase in the face of total prohibition in Bihar which has a population of nearly 100 million.
The news report in Hindi says, “The Parsa district police of Nepal unearthed a hashish factory at Pohariya village near Birgunj adjoining Raxaul of Bihar, and seized 44 kg of ready hashish. In the last four months, 27 smugglers were arrested with huge quantity of hashish in East Champaran, West Champaran, Gopalgunj and Samastipur districts.”
According to Nepal Police sources, some smugglers of Bihar and Nepal have recently started manufacturing hashish. Around 100 smugglers from the district are involved in the smuggling of liquor from Nepal, they maintain.
After a ban on liquor, narcotic dealers from outside the state have increased their footprints in Bihar, thinking that the state will emerge as a big market for marijuana and opium. Excise department officials believe that much of the contraband, especially opium, comes from Punjab and that the department has worked out a strategy to counter the influx of the contraband.
As per the strategy, the department has upgraded its vigilance along the borders in four districts. It is also in the process to sensitize home guards who work in the rural areas and usually have information as to who are involved in the illegal trade of liquor and narcotics.
The four districts which are being monitored are Kaimur, Rohtas, Aurangabad and Gaya along the GT Road and bordering districts along Nepal.
According to intelligence sources, nearly 10,000 bottles of Nepali liquor are smuggled into India.
The State Government in its advertisements maintains that the prohibition order is a landmark decision, which can make Bihar more prosperous and society less litigant. It claims that the crime rate has dipped 27 percent and road accidents by 33 percent after the liquor ban came into force.
The ban is expected to cost the state government Rs 4,000 crores in revenue loss. Strict implementation of the prohibition order brings a host of additional work on the government machinery and the police force.
The recent death of 17 people in Bihar’s Gopalgunj district after consuming locally-brewed illicit liquor is not the biggest casualty of the prohibition order so far.
The biggest casualty is that it’s taking a serious toll on the policemen who have been made responsible to ensure total prohibition in their respective areas. If there is an incident, it’s the policemen who receive the harshest punishment.
The same day the district administration conceded that some of these 17 people may have died due to consuming spurious liquor, Bihar Police raided a cement go-down of a bridge construction company in Motihari district and recovered a truck-full of foreign liquor packed in 300 cartons.
While out of the state some people find solace in consuming their favourite drinks and also bringing some along with them, on the sly though. There is a risk involved in bringing the liquor into Bihar so there is no point bringing it in small quantity. Bottles of only one-liter and colorless varieties poured into plastic bottles are the modus operandi being employed by the bootleggers.
“When you are taking the risk, it makes sense to bring as many bottles as possible or a truck-full as is the case with the road construction company, and get the reward by selling it in grey market at a hefty premium.
This is how the tipplers are able to get their drink when mere drinking is no fun, the real thrill lies in making a business out of the liquor procured illegally, says a middle-aged liquor shop owner whose livelihood depended entirely on the liquor trade.
BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Gopal Narayan Singh criticized the government saying prohibition is a good thing but it should have been implemented in a gradual manner.
Replying to the criticism, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said at a function that all government officials who find it difficult to implement the prohibition should quit their jobs. Meanwhile, three SPs, 14 excise department officials and six SSB personnel were felicitated by Bihar government on the Independence Day for effectively implementing the prohibition order.
(Arun Kr Shrivastav is a New Delhi-based journalist having worked in Kathmandu including with the Republica. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)