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How Alcohol Poisoning Killed Dozens In A ‘Dry State’

More than 70 people have died and several others were hospitalized last week due to the consumption of poisonous alcohol in certain districts of Bihar, India. The death toll is still increasing, and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has sent a notice to the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police (DGP) of the state.


The sale and consumption of alcohol have been banned in the state since April 2016 after several women’s groups campaigned against it. Poor workers were splurging their incomes on drinking and then indulging in violence against women and children at home. This was also Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s election promise to the women of the state who have suffered because of the excessive drinking habits of their male family members.


Despite these intentions, the law has negative components to it, like holding the entire family liable to imprisonment if any family member violated the liquor-ban, and a collective fine on a whole village if there was any violation of the prohibition. However, even such harsh laws failed to stop alcohol consumption in the state. Instead, it gave rise to a thriving black market for cheap alcohol made in unregulated backstreet distilleries that kills hundreds of people every year.


Almost 16 people died in August 2016, while in 2021 a total of 47 deaths were reported in March and November months by different media organizations. Altogether more than 1000 people have died due to spurious liquor in the last 6 years reports NBT. In the latest incident, men in the Saran district began vomiting on Tuesday the 13th of December, after drinking a locally made tipple known as “Mahua”, “Desi Daru”, or “Hooch” on Monday, as told by the families of victims. Several people died on the way to the hospital and others died while being treated as reported by the local media. 25 people have lost vision as well.


A Special Investigation Team (SIT) has arrested 7 people and detained 15 others for interrogation. The Superintendent of Police (SP) said that a total of 213 people have been detained. FIRs have been lodged in different police stations regarding the deaths and two prime accused are being interrogated. However, only 30 deaths have been officially announced by the administration and post-mortems have been done by government hospitals.


Although it’s a tragedy for dozens of families some people just don’t want to accept alcohol poisoning as the cause of death. So, several deaths will be registered under other causes like death due to cold or illness. The reason is the rule that no compensation will be paid to the families of a person who died due to alcohol consumption. Moreover, there have been several reports in local and national media claiming that the officials have pressurized the victim’s families to not disclose the cause of death otherwise they won’t get any compensation and will be prosecuted under the law.


The government’s prohibition policy not only led to multiple tragedies and loss of lives but also affected the finances of the state. It caused a big loss of excise earnings that were generated from the taxes on alcohol. According to the Observers Research Federation (ORF), the state has lost revenue of around INR 400 billion in the last seven years. The government could have taken lessons from other governments who have tried imposing similar laws but decided to withdraw after some time.


In the United States, for instance, a prohibition was imposed in 1920 after which the authorities reported increased consumption of adulterated alcohol and a spurt in crime. In addition, the ban killed the brewing industry and resulted in substantial job losses. The country lost US $11 billion in tax revenues and spent an additional US $300 million on the enforcement of laws. In the end, the Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement report in 1931 pointed to widespread police and political corruption. Hence the prohibition was abandoned in December 1933.


Several Indian states have also attempted the prohibition but later took it back for various reasons like the inability to control illicit distillation and black marketing or for scenarios similar to what Bihar is facing at the moment.


These examples establish the fact that prohibition is not an easy task to perform and has little chance of success. People addicted to drinking are willing to take any risk, even if it means putting their lives at stake. Moreover, laws like these put enormous power in the hands of the administration which can lead to an increase in corruption and public harassment. The revenue losses to the government are a matter of concern as well and eventually affect other development projects. Thus rather than banning alcohol outright, the government could try and regulate the sale of alcohol while increasing taxation, like the Delhi government’s policy, which might help in capital gain and drinkers might be able to better control the amount of consumption under safer circumstances.



Pic Credit: The New Indian

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Tags: Deaths India News Desi Daru Bihar News Alcohol Poisoning Liquor Ban Spurious liquor Hooch Tragedy Alcohol poisoning in Bihar


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