Patna: A team of excise officials from Rajasthan have been touring Bihar for the past couple of days. The trip started Wednesday, and since then the group has visited Gopalganj, Bodh Gaya and Muzaffarpur — all infamous for rampant illegal liquor trade.
The team of five, led by Additional Commissioner of the Excise Department of Rajasthan C.R. Dewasi, is on a special mission — to study the implementation of prohibition in Bihar.
“We have met Bihar officials. I must say that the Bihar government has worked hard to enforce prohibition,” Dewasi told ThePrint. “But we will be studying grassroots facts like availability of liquor in the grey market and its impact on tourism and society.”
Dewasi said he and his team will be in Bihar until 16 December.
“We will be submitting a report to our government. It is for the government then to decide if it wants to enforce prohibition the Bihar way,” he added.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has always been vocal about banning liquor in the state. In his second term — 2008 to 2013 — he had even ordered liquor shops to be closed at 8 pm instead of 11 pm.
Liquor ban could hurt Rajasthan tourism
Although the Gehlot government is said to be keen on implementing prohibition in the state, there are some crucial differences between Bihar and Rajasthan — chief among them being tourism.
Rajasthan tourism contributes 15 per cent to its GDP, but in Bihar, it is a minor contributor.
“The contribution of tourism in Bihar’s economy is very marginal,” said well-known economist Dr P.P. Ghosh of Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), which aids the Bihar government in releasing its annual economic survey.
In 2018, over 5 crore domestic tourists and more than 17 lakh foreign tourists had visited Rajasthan. In the same year, Bihar saw over 3 crore domestic tourists and 10 lakh foreign tourists.
“But there is a basic difference. In Rajasthan tourists come to places like Jaipur, Udaipur and Mount Abu, stay in hotels, purchase from local markets — these drive the local economy. But in Bihar it is religious tourism and that also mostly by lower- and middle-class groups,” said Satyajit Singh, chairman of the Bihar unit of PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Singh added that a major chunk of Bihar’s foreign tourists comes from Nepal and Bhutan, and they primarily visit places like Bodh Gaya. “They do not stay in hotels and contribute very little to the local economy,” he added.
“Rajasthan will be ill-advised to follow the Bihar model of prohibition,” Singh said, pointing out that since 2016 (when the prohibition came into effect), the hotel industry has been suffering losses due to prohibition.
He added that marriage, conference-related bookings at hotels have dropped by 40 per cent as these clients now prefer to book hotels in Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. “The hotels of Bihar are now almost empty in the evening,” he said.
Liquor revenue & other factors
Rajasthan earns Rs 15,000 crore per year from liquor sales, said Dewasi.
Following the prohibition, Bihar suffered a total revenue loss of Rs 3,500 crore, said Ghosh of the ADRI. Economists, however, pegged the figure at Rs 10,000 crore, taking into account the total loss in terms of sales tax and losses suffered by the hospitality sector.
“In Rajasthan also it may lead to a major spin-off effect,” said Singh.
After prohibition, liquor was being sold abundantly in the black market at high prices. The liquor ban also led to unemployment of thousands of people engaged in the trade, the emergence of gangs of local bootleggers across the state and increasing corruption in the Bihar police force.
Earlier this year, the Patna High Court pointed out that there were over 2.06 lakh cases pending in Bihar courts, pertaining to violation of prohibition laws and it was choking the judiciary.
The high court asked the state government on how it proposed to dispose of those cases. The state government responded by approving 75 designated courts that will only look after anti-liquor law violations.
“The Rajasthan team should also look into these factors,” said a senior IAS officer, stressing that the only good that has emerged out of the liquor ban is a dip in the domestic violence cases against women.
“But the fact remains that most still consume liquor in closed rooms,” he said, adding that 71,000 liters of foreign liquor were seized in Bihar during the first two phases of the Lok Sabha elections this year.