Bihar Hooch Tragedy

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    • Recently, the Bihar government has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe deaths due to consumption of spurious liquor in Saran district which took 82 lives as of now.

    More about the news

    • State Subject: Although the prohibition of alcohol use is encouraged in the constitution of India (Article 47, DPSP), alcohol policy is a state subject. 
      • States are having full control of alcohol-related legislation, excise rates and the production, distribution and sale of alcohol. 
    • The sale and consumption of alcohol were banned in Bihar in 2016.
      • Bihar continues to witness liquor sales on the black market and deaths owing to the consumption of locally made spurious liquor.

    History of Hooch tragedies

    • Increasing trend: The number of hooch-related deaths has been on a rise in the country. 
      • 3 people on average die every single day due to spurious liquor poisoning in the country. 
    • Top states: Recently, the Lok Sabha released a detailed report of the top 5 states that reported the greatest number of deaths due to consumption of illegal and spurious liquor in the year 2016 to 2020 with Bihar and Chhattisgarh topping the list. 
    • Data: According to the data, over 6,000 deaths were reported between 2016 and 2020 due to the consumption of spurious liquor with the lowest number of deaths in 2020 at 947.

    What is spurious liquor? 

    • Spurious liquor means liquor which has been adulterated with an object to bring intoxication and is harmful to consumers. 
    • It is cheap and is mostly used by the lower strata of our society. 
    • It contains a higher percentage of methyl alcohol which is poisonous. 
    • Consumption of such liquor may cause blindness, other serious health problems and even death. 
    • Sometimes even other chemicals are mixed with the ethyl alcohol so that the consumer gets a feeling of intoxication. 
      • Even these are highly poisonous and can cause severe damages to the body and even death can occur.

    Why do people fall prey to such liquor?

    • Demand-supply relation: It is a result of a simple demand vs supply problem, and the cost adds to the complication. 
    • Liquor ban: Several instances of hooch tragedies can mostly be traced back to incidents that occur in states where liquor is banned. 
    • Cheap alternative: People tend to look for a cheap alternative out of desperation. 
    • They are also easy targets for bootleggers trying to make quick money by selling cheap, low-quality liquor that they sell in a bid to make good profits.

    Arguments in favour of Liquor ban

    • Not a loss of revenue: it is possible to have a robust economy even without selling liquor. If the government ensures that there are zero tax evasions, black money stashed abroad is brought back to the country and corruption is controlled in the government.
    • DPSP: the state government has a responsibility to safeguard public health. The Directive Principles of State Policy clearly say that the State is responsible for raising the level of nutrition, standard of living and public health.
    • Injurious to Health: It is known to everyone that liquor is injurious to health and no doctor has ever suggested that liquor will improve a person’s health. It causes damage not only to the liver but also hampers the functioning of the entire body.
    • Affects poor people: In poor households where a person is addicted to alcohol, a major share of the household income which should have been spent for betterment of standard of life goes into liquor.
    • Social Issues: Liquor is also the reason behind perpetuating domestic violence, hampering of family bonds, couples getting divorced and children getting neglected.
    • Addiction and rise in crimes: With easy availability of liquor youngsters are getting addicted. As far as crimes are concerned, it appears that a large percentage of crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol.
    • Crime rate: If the government prohibits liquor it will also result in a decline in the crime rate.

    Arguments against Liquor ban

    • Revenue for the Government: The government argues that the sale of liquor provides it with good revenue in terms of excise duty and that the money is required to develop the economy.
    • The Legal Angle: A rise in crime due to withdrawal symptoms and an inability to find and consume alcohol would be a major problem.
    • Rise in violent crime: This is indicative because if someone wants to consume alcohol under prohibition, then they will have to employ illegal methods. This is the fear that is there behind prohibiting alcohol.
    • Right to Liquor: The arguments that support the contention that the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution include the right to consume and trade liquor mainly pertain to Articles 21 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

    Way Forward

    • Not a fundamental Right: Presently, no Indian citizen has the fundamental right to consume and trade liquor. Respective state governments have a monopoly over the liquor market in India. 
    • Awareness: Experts continue to advocate awareness and not prohibition to be the way to go especially in states where the law already prohibits the use of it.
    • Inelastic behaviour: Experts continue to argue that alcohol consumption is inelastic, and this is true for states that don’t have a ban on liquor and yet see a huge spike in deaths due to spurious liquor consumption. 

    Source: AIR