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In dry Bihar, Clamour Grows to Lift Toddy ban; Nitish Allies and Opposition Back Demand

The demand to lift the toddy ban by allies of CM Nitish Kumar gained momentum after the ruling Mahagathbandhan was defeated in a recent bypoll.
In dry Bihar, Clamour Grows to Lift Toddy ban; Nitish Allies and Opposition Back Demand

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: NDTV

Patna: Amid questions being raised over the failure of total liquor prohibition in Bihar, demand is growing to lift the ban on the sale of toddy, locally known as “Tadi”. It is the main source of livelihood for the Dalit Pasi community and others engaged in toddy tapping from palm trees and its sale. 

Demand to lift the ban on toddy by allies of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar gained momentum following the defeat of the ruling Mahagathbandhan by its main political rival, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the bypoll for the Kurhani Assembly seat in Muzaffarpur district last week.

After HAM and Congress, now RJD MLA Amar Paswan has on Monday demanded to lift the ban on toddy as soon as possible because it will provide an opportunity for hurdle-free livelihood to the entire Pasi community. 

“I have urged Chief Minister Kumar to review the ban on toddy and lift it for the sake of the Pasi community’s livelihood, who have no other source of livelihood except toddy. They are poverty-stricken and marginalised,” Paswan told NewsClick.

Paswan said it would be a pro-poor move to lift the ban on toddy sale and consumption. This will also promote a safe, natural drink in place of poisonous locally-made liquor.

Paswan further said there is no issue with the state’s liquor prohibition; it should continue, but the ban on toddy should be lifted.

“Ban on toddy has badly affected the life of the Pasi community. This turned them upset and angry. Taking advantage of the anger among them, our rivals played a card against the Mahagathbandhan in the recently held bypoll for the Kurhani seat. It is high time the state government lifts the ban,” he added.

The sale and consumption of toddy are banned in the state under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act.

Toddy is considered a poor man’s beer in rural Bihar; it is the most popular drink among millions and is widely seen as a readily available and cheap drink for the working class. For ages, toddy has been a favourite of rural people as a natural drink from the palm tree. Besides, toddy tapping and sale are traditional works of people belonging to the Pasi community. This was why RJD chief Lalu Prasad, chief minister in the early 90s, declared toddy tax-free in the state to help people engaged in toddy tapping and its sale. It was the decision that made Lalu a popular figure among Pasis. 

“No doubt, it was a bold step by Laluji for the poor Pasi community. Lalu’s decision helped us then and we supported him,” Shivlal Choudhary, a middle-aged person from the Pasi community and resident of the Haspura block in Aurangabad district, told NewsClick .

A day after the outcome of Kurhani bypoll, which was a setback for the Mahagathbandhan as BJP defeated the JD-U candidate, senior Congress leader Ajit Sharma blamed the toddy ban for it. “The entire Pasi community is angry over the ban on toddy, their main source of earning livelihood for ages. During the campaigning in Kurhani, the Pasi people expressed unhappiness over the ban. At the election meeting addressed by Kumar, a group of angry Pasi community members staged a protest against the ban and demanded its removal. Our rivals encashed their anger in the bypoll. The Mahagathbandhan government should seriously think about lifting the ban,” Sharma told NewsClick.

But former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, whose party HAM is a ruling ally of the Kumar-led Mahagathbandhan government, has repeatedly been voicing support for the Pasi community and time and again demanded to lift the ban on toddy. Manjhi, in recent months, also urged the government to review prohibition and requested it to allow the poor to consume low quantities of liquor.

Last month hundreds of people belonging to the Pasi community, traditionally known for being engaged in the business of toddy, popularly known as “Tadi”, staged a protest in Patna demanding the state government to remove the ban on the liquor’s sale. They alleged that hundreds of young and old men from their community were arrested and sent to jail on charges of selling toddy.

During the protest, they claimed that toddy is a common person’s beer as it is harmless and not bad for health. Protesters alleged that local police across the state have been harassing, abusing and arresting them on charges of selling toddy.

Soon after their protest, Manjhi supported their demand and claimed that toddy is the natural juice of palm trees, harmless and chemical-free, and hence, it should not be banned. Manjhi then asked how natural palm tree juice could be treated as liquor and banned.

Not missing a chance to champion the cause of the Pasi community over the ban on toddy, BJP leaders attacked the Mahagathbandhan government for it and accused the government of harassing the Pasi community in the name of the toddy ban.

BJP’s ally Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) president Chirag Paswan also targeted the Mahagathbandhan government and demanded to remove toddy from the list of intoxicants.

According to a political watcher Satyanarayan Madan, when Kumar imposed the liquor prohibition in the state in April 2016, then RJD was a key ally of the Kumar-led government and Lalu Prasad yadav was against the decision to ban the sale and consumption of toddy.

“Sensing trouble from the Pasi community, the ruling allies have been putting pressure on the Mahagathbandhan government led by Kumar to lift the ban on toddy. But it appears that Kumar is rigid on the liquor ban as well today. But this factor is going to haunt the Mahagathbandhan in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls," Madan said.

As per a reported estimate, the population of the Pasi community in Bihar is nearly 20 lakh, spread in all 38 districts. [NEEDS SOURCE/CITATION]

In more than seven years, one hooch tragedy after another has been reported despite the government imposing a liquor prohibition in April 2016. In contrast, the CM and his Cabinet colleagues have repeatedly claimed that the much-hyped prohibition has been 100% successful.

However, the prohibition has become a joke among the people, with illicit liquor freely available on demand and even delivered at home with the alleged complicity of the police.

Despite the much-touted use of drones, copters and motorboats by the Kumar-led government to curb the illegal manufacturing and smuggling of liquor in Bihar, hundreds of poor people have died after allegedly consuming illicit alcohol in the last two years.

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