Seizures indicate prohibition has not been implemented properly by the state government.
New Delhi: The Election Commission’s data on the seizure of liquor in Gujarat in the run up to the assembly elections has revealed that prohibition in the state has not been implemented properly by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government which has been ruling it for 22 years now.
Ahead of the elections – voting for the first phase of which was held on December 9 and the final round is due on December 14 – over a million litres of liquor worth around Rs 23.80 crores has been seized in the state.
This is both surprising and worrisome as it indicates that liquor smugglers are able to push in liquor with great ease. Considering that police presence on the roads increases before elections, when a large number of central and other agencies, including the EC, also monitor the movement of cash, liquor and drugs, the haul of liquor also gives a fair idea of the scale at which the mafia may be operating in the state at other times when surveillance is not so high.
The ECI said while 909 litres of liquor worth Rs 3.56 lakh has been seized by the police thus far, the major part of the seizure has been effected by the state excise department which has thus far seized 10.12 lakh lites of liquor worth Rs 23.76 crore.
The police, the state excise department, the income tax department and several other departments of the state have been engaged in the seizure of unaccounted cash, drugs, liquor and precious metals during the elections.
Incidentally, a year after Narendra Modi had become chief minister of Gujarat for the first time in 2001, an article in Rediff had dwelt at length on the hows and whys of the illicit liquor trade and how it flourished under political patronage. Though Modi remained at the helm of the state for 13 years, nothing appears to have changed on this front.
Prohibition was imposed in Gujarat in May 1960 after it was carved out of the state of Bombay. This was done as it was Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace. The state has a total prohibition policy, with no pubs or bars, and there is a ban on the manufacture, storage, sale and consumption of liquor.
It is also interesting to note that the Supreme Court had in 2014 exhorted other states to follow the complete prohibition model of Gujarat.
The Rediff article had noted how the state enforced prohibition since it was birth place of Gandhi but that did not stop the sale of liquor, which on the sly recorded sales of nearly Rs 10 crore per annum back then:
“Prohibition suits everyone even as it corrodes the Gujarati society by spawning corruption while emasculating the police and compromising the system,” the author had written, adding that “every time elections come, there is an upsurge in the trade. On the one hand there is heightened police activity necessitating greater discretion, but on the other, the demand for liquor for party workers and the electorate goes up, forcing candidates to procure it clandestinely.”
Alcohol, it had said, was smuggled into Gujarat from neighbouring Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra with the cantonment areas also contributing to the illicit trade.
But while all this has been common knowledge, the recent seizures indicate that little has been done by successive BJP governments, like their predecessors, to curb the trade.