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How the Bootlegging Industry is Flourishing in the Dry State of Bihar

MI Khan |
One and half years after a total prohibition in Bihar, liquor is still easily available either on demand or at particular places.

Credits: PTI

It is not only the opposition that has been questioning a total prohibition of liquor in Bihar, even people in the rural and urban areas are openly saying that it has failed. This is something that has Bihar’s ruling JD-U and chief minister Nitish Kumar worried since he had taken all the credit for imposing the much-hyped prohibition last year.

Unlike any other issue in dry Bihar, allegations made by opposition RJD, Congress, and Left parties, that a total prohibition has failed and become a joke, is gaining ground amongst people. It is evident everywhere that the prohibition has failed.

“Liquor is available everywhere, only customers have to pay more for a bottle, particularly for the Indian made foreign liquor. Besides, desi liquor(country made liquor) is not a problem at all. The bootlegging industry is flourishing in dry Bihar,” said Ramesh Singh, a businessman in Arwal district.

Ramesh’s observation is right. One and half years after a total prohibition in Bihar, liquor is easily available either on demand or at particular places. Liquor, both desi and foreign made, is selling like hot cake at high prices. People are consuming without fear. Last week, four people died and five fell seriously ill after consuming illicit liquor in Rohtas district. Unconfirmed reports suggested that one person died in Bhojpur district and another in Katihar district after consuming illicit liquor in last one week. "Prohibition has made business for manufacturing desi liquor or supply of India made foreign liquor a lucrative one. It has attracted powerful people, criminals, traders, contractors, and unemployed youths to mint money with sharing their profit with local administration, particularly police and officials of excise department," said Satender Rai, a farmer of Vaishali district.

Take for example, the case of Rajan Kumar and Saurav Kumar, who used to run a fast food shop. They turned to bootlegging for making easy money as their regular business had come down. Both were arrested for smuggling and supply of liquor by police in Kankarbagh in Patna. In another case, Ajay Kumar, who used to steal motorbikes in Muzaffarpur, turned to bootlegging after prohibition for easy money. 

The bootleggers have been using innovative ways to ensure the smooth flow of liquor in dry Bihar. They have roped in women, school students, children and physically challenged people to escape the attention of police. "They have used fruit juice packets to multivitamin bottles to supply and carry liquor to the destination. Besides, they have used leather padding in four vehicles, LPG cylinders, bags of vegetables, onion to food grains to smuggle liquor,” a police official said. 

These bootleggers have also coined new code words like mithai, Ganga Jal, Prasad, Dawai, Chawanni, Athanni and Rahat for the supply of liquor to customers.

Much to the embarrassment of the state government, despite the prohibition, police and excise department have recovered more than 11 lakh litre of foreign-made liquor in the last 18 months in the state. This is excluding desi liquor. According to official data, 5 lakh litres of foreign-made liquor was recovered from April 5, 2016, till March 31, 2017. But from April 1, 2017, to end of October 2017, 6 lakh litres of foreign-made liquor was recovered. It appears that supply network of liquor in dry Bihar has strengthened and increasing its business, unlike last year. "During the first year of prohibition, only 5 lakh litres of foreign-made liquor was recovered during raids by police and excise department. But in the second year of prohibition, 6 lakh litres of foreign-made liquor was recovered only in 7 months. It is bound to double in remaining five months in view of winter when the demand for liquor increases manyfold compared to summer,” a senior police official said.

It has exposed the high demand, availability and supply of liquor in the state after prohibition. After the prohibition, the supply of liquor on large scale has developed in Bihar and has been taking shape of a lucrative illegal industry like organized crime. Syndicate of liquor smugglers and liquor mafia with the help of police and ruling politicians have made it a big business with double to four times profit as per investment”   

People involved in the supply of liquor, from manufacturing to home delivery, have transformed into a well-shaped full-fledged gang that operates carefully and is using every trick to manage it. Most of the foreign-made liquor has been coming from neighbouring Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and far away Haryana and Punjab. "Hardly a day goes without police recovering foreign-made liquor from trucks, buses and four-wheelers in Bihar."

In fact, one after another two incident that took place within twenty-four hours last week embarrassed Nitish Kumar and provided a ready-made issue for opposition leaders to target him for the failure of prohibition. First, four people died after consuming illicit liquor on October 28th and 29th. Rakesh Singh, main accused in Ara hooch tragedy of 2012 that claimed lives of 30 people, posted his selfie with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on social media after he met him in his official bungalow. 

Interestingly, Singh, who was the JD-U block president in Bhojupur district, was expelled from the party after his selfie with Nitish Kumar went viral on social media.

The leader of Opposition Tejashwi Yadav has termed the prohibition as a big joke and a hoax. “Prohibition in Bihar is a big hoax and has failed in the state.It has given rise to illegal trade and corruption within the system," he said soon after four people died after consuming illicit liquor last week. It was the second time such deaths occurred in the state after prohibition. About 18 people had died in Gopalganj district after consuming illicit liquor in August, 2016.

He further said that alcohol ban in Bihar is only on paper. It was a politically motivated move meant to create an image of Nitish Kumar at the national level because of  Prime Ministerial ambitions for 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Tejashwi asked why has Nitish Kumar suddenly stopped daring Prime Minister Narender Modi to implement prohibition in BJP ruled states. "After Nitish Kumar joined hands with BJP and formed a government in Bihar in July, he is silent, not appealing BJP to impose prohibition in the party-ruled states as he was doing until June this year. Prohibition in Bihar is nothing but a part of his politics”.

“How did the hooch tragedy accused Rakesh Singh entered the official residence of the chief minister and chief minister allowed him to take a selfie with him? It proved that liquor mafia has a direct link with him,” Tejashwi said.

Even Tejashwi's father and RJD chief Lalu Prasad attacked Nitish Kumar by saying that the state was dry for name sake only. “Nitish Kumar's confidant and Rajya Sabha member RCP Singh is the kingpin of illicit liquor trade. The state and police have been helping liquor smugglers in lieu of money,” Lalu Prasad said. 

 According to police headquarters official record, after prohibition, 90,000 people have been arrested, 84,600 cases lodged, and about 2 lakh raids conducted by police, excise and prohibition personnel. At present, around 3,500 people arrested for violating the dry law are languishing in different jails.

But prohibition is far from a reality on the ground in the state. The state government had decided to create a special cell to check and monitor the sale, consumption and manufacture of illicit liquor in the state. It will function on the pattern of the economic offences unit (EOU) to deal with cases under the new prohibition law. 

Ironically, when Nitish Kumar banned liquor in Bihar,  opposition BJP, which is now his ally, termed prohibition law provisions as “draconian". Early this year, senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said that the alcohol ban seemed like a joke and that nothing can be more hilarious than this. It is a different matter that now he is the deputy chief minister in Nitish Kumar led government.


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