Bihar has today shown a path on which any Punjab government can not ever imagine to walk. A few days ago Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has announced that Punjab government will file a PIL in Supreme Court against the cultivation and sale of poppy husk in Madhya Pradesh but he or for that matter any other Punjab leader has never raised a voice against the rising level of alcoholism in Punjab.
The Nitish Kumar government which had banned sale and consumption of country and spiced liquor in rural areas of Bihar from April 1 this year, today decided to impose a total ban on alcohol in towns and cities.
The decision to ban sale and consumption of India Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) in municipal and town council areas with immediate effect was taken at a Cabinet meeting, the Chief Minister told reporters in Patna.
The Nitish Kumar government had banned sale and consumption of country and spiced liquor in rural areas from April 1 this year, but had allowed sale of foreign liquor in towns and cities.
"But, the tremendous response of people particularly women and children against liquor in Patna and other towns in a short period of four days only convinced us that a conducive environment against alcohol has been created in the state and that’s why we decided to go for total ban on liquor after four days only,” he said.
On toddy, which has created controversy in recent days following intervention of RJD president Lalu Prasad against its stoppage in view of interest of people associated with the trade, Mr. Kumar said the Cabinet decided to strictly impose the 1991 guidelines which allowed the consumption of ‘neera’ (drink from palm trees before sunrise) but disallowed the consumption of toddy (after sunrise when the palm tree liquid gets fermented and gains alcoholic properties).
The 1991 guidelines prohibited the sale and consumption of ‘neera’ within 50 metre of places like hospital, education institutions, religious places among others in towns and 100 metres radius in rural areas, he added.
Army cantonment areas out of ban
Mr. Kumar said that no licence would be granted for sale and consumption of alcohol in places such as hotels, club and bars in towns and cities too with immediate effect.
He, however, said the Army cantonment areas would be out of it as they regulated the sale and consumption of alcohol in their own way.
Asked about fate of liquor manufacturing companies and factories existing in the State after the total ban order today, he said they could continue manufacture but can not trade in it within the State.
"Besides, they have to abide by rules like having a digital lock system and the GPS monitoring equipment in vehicles transporting the liquor manufactured in outlets in Bihar to places outside the State for sale,” he said.
In reply to a question as to what would be done with nearly 36,000 litres of foreign liquor lying with the Bihar State Beverages Corporation Limited (BSBCL), which they had to supply to limited outlets in towns and cities under its strict supervision, he said the Excise department would prepare an action plan for disposal of the residual IMFL.
Lessons from Tamil Nadu
Mr. Kumar said a high-level committee, headed by the Development Commissioner, and which would have Principal Secretaries of departments like Industries, Forest and Environment, Excise, Cooperative and COMFED (Bihar State Milk Co—Operative Federation Ltd.) in it, would dwell on the issue how to make trade out of toddy trees more beneficial to people associated with it as was done in Tamil Nadu, which has maximum number of palm trees.
The committee would work in close association with the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University and ICAR (Indian Council of Agriculture Research) to prepare a scheme for toddy trees products which would be put into action from next year, he said.
Any beneficial products like preparing mat and tokri (basket) out of toddy tree products could be developed to help people associated with the trade to continue their livelihood with even better profits, he said.
"Survey has brought to light that more than Rs 6,000 annually could be generated from a toddy tree by this means which is far more than earned through sale of fermented toddy drink,” he said.
The government would provide technical and financial assistance in making the trade out of toddy trees more beneficial to those linked with it.
"Like collection and marketing of milk through COMFED, 'Neera' trade would also be developed in an institutionalised manner,” he said