PATNA/ARA/GAYA/CHHAPRA: Chief minister Nitish Kumar on Monday reiterated that liquor would remain banned in Bihar although the government was to amend some of its legal provisions to prevent the misuse of stringent law, but the jury is still out on the positive changes of prohibition in society, as has been claimed by the state and its Economic Survey (2017-18).
Though there is no doubt about certain positive changes being witnessed in the hinterlands since liquor ban in the state from April 5, 2016, sceptics refuse to attribute it to the prohibition alone.
A study by Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) said the milk products sold under Sudha Dairy brand witnessed 17.5% surge in 2016-17, compared to previous year. The report also found surge in sales of a few items like expensive saris (1715%), expensive dress materials (910%), processed food (46%), plastic goods (65%) and furniture (20%). It also stated that with more purchasing power, more people bought four-wheelers (30%), tractors (29%) and two-wheelers and three-wheelers (32%).
Claims and counterclaims apart, life has changed, indeed, for the better of people like Sanoj Ram, who lives in a slum of sanitation workers in Ara town. “Now I have a one-room room pucca house in place of a thatched one. I got it constructed with the money I saved after prohibition. Twenty to 30 such concrete houses have been made after ‘sharab-bandi’ (prohibition),” Ram told this newspaper on Tuesday.
Rakesh, a native of the same slum, said: “People in this slum now have two fans in their houses. Earlier, they had none. We have bought bikes, refrigerators and televisions, too.”
Arbind Rai, a labourer from Shivganj locality in Ara, said earlier he could not save money for provisions and milk for the family, but now he had sufficient money to meet the daily requirements.
Such statements seem to corroborate the claims made in the economic survey and ADRI report. But some economists have a different view. “The Economic Survey seems an implicit study. How can the government claim people are spending the same money on milk products, vehicles and other items which they earlier spent on liquor? The findings do not seem to have been gathered from groundwork and it is not fair for the government to come up with such misleading reports,” said D M Diwakar, social scientist and professor of economics at Patna-based A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies.
Avinash Kumar, director of an automobile showroom at Gaya, claimed 18-20% increase in the sales of four-wheelers in the last two years. He, however, attributed it to so many other factors than prohibition alone. “Natural economic growth process may also have contributed to it,” Ramesh said.
Textile dealer D K Jain of Gaya also said the business of textile products has significantly increased in the past couple of years. But he also attributed the increase to demonetisation. “Post-demonetisation, hidden currency came in circulation and enhanced the purchasing power of people,” said Jain.
Meanwhile, prohibition also seems to have adversely impacted some people who are spending more on buying smuggled liquor and ganja. They claim smuggled liquor is easily available at a premium, leading to more expenditure for the habitual tipplers. Nand Kishore, a carpenter by profession and a habitual drunkard, lives on the outskirts of Chhapra town in Saran district. He said home delivery of liquor was available at some specified places at a premium price. “There is no question of saving money to buy milk. Here we are paying more to buy illegal liquor!” he said.
Also, police sources claim one kilogram of ganja, which was available at Rs4,000-5,000, is now being sold at around Rs10,000/kg.