Even though Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren and some of his cabinet colleauges boldly said in public many times that the state government remains firm on its decision to partially lift prohibition and will not step back from pressures, the pro-prohibitionist groups led by Coalition Against Drugs and Alcohol (CADA) and All Manipur Women’s Social Reformation & Development Samaj, popularly known as Nupi Samaj continue to mount their pressure on Manipur Government to roll back the Cabinet decision by holding sit-in-protests and rallies at various places.
The cabinet of Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren on September 20 approved a proposal for partial lifting of the prohibition and regulating selling and brewing of alcoholic liquors in Manipur, besides opening of licenced outlets of Indian Made Foreign Liquors (IMFL)/Foreign Made Foreign Liquors (FMFL). Manipur became a dry state with effect from April 1, 1991 after the enactment of the Manipur Liquor Prohibition Act, 1991.
Next day, September 21 condemning the state cabinet decision to lift the prohibition, the Coalition Against Drugs and Alcohol (CADA) demanded the government to immediately revoke the cabinet decision. Such a move of the state government to benefit some allied entrepreneurs will lower the morale and character of the youths, especially women, besides creating health issues in every family across the state, CADA Secretary General Geetchandra Mangang said while speaking to the media at CADA office in Imphal East.
He also questioned, “Will anything which is uncontrollable be legalised? Is the government also going to legalise drugs, corruption and prostitution which is uncontrollable?”
“We demand a white paper from the government so that the public may discuss the merits and demerits of lifting the prohibition on selling and brewing of alcoholic liquors. But Manipur Government failed to respond to the demands,” Geetchandra said, adding that the protest will continue.
Moreover, Nupi Samaj demands that the Manipur Government must review the cabinet decision that was taken to legalise brewing and selling of liquor. Leaders of Nupi Samaj warned of intense forms of agitations. Addressing reporters at its office in Imphal September 22, Nupi Samaj president Th Ramani cautioned that women in the state will launch various forms of intense agitations if the state government fails to review the decision. She alleged that over 40 years of campaign by women against liquor and abuse of drugs went in vain by that decision of the government.
Ramani said that the government had taken the decision by sidelining the long struggle of women against liquor to save the society. “The Chief Minister must immediately review the decision”, she added. “If no positive response comes forth from the government, the Nupi Samaj is ready to launch various forms of intense agitations along with like-minded civil society organisations,” she also said. The decision to lift the prohibition showed that the government sees only the revenue to be generated and not the negative impact being given to society, Ramani alleged.
As declared by Nupi Samaj and CADA, Sit in Protests and rallies by Meira Paibis in protest against the Manipur Government’s decision lifting total prohibition on selling and brewing of alcoholic liquors in Manipur have been continuing from September 23 in various parts of the state till to this day.
While CADA, Nupi Samaj and other organisations are demanding to revoke the Cabinet decision to partially lift prohibition of selling and brewing of alcohol liquor, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren remains firm. Besides sale and distillation of local brew and IMFL in selected spots, he is now talking of establishing “a beer factory based on pineapple and ginger in Manipur”.
Reiterating that the Cabinet decision to lift prohibition on sale and consumption of liquor from the State was taken after holding thorough discussion and taking recommendation from committees formed earlier in this regard, Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren and some of his cabinet colleagues have said the Government has taken this step considerning health issues of many people who are suffering from liver cirrhosis and other diseases due to drinking of spurious alcohols besides claiming revenue collection of Rs. 600 to 700 Crore annually from the distillation and sale of local brews.
However, amid Nupi Samaj’s ultimatum to launch intensified forms of agitation instead of democratic agitations from October 11 if the state government fails to make a response on whether the cabinet decision will be withdrawn or not by October 10 and the stand of CADA that they will not meet the government until a white paper on lifting prohibition is produced by Manipur government, a “DRAFT Manipur Liquor Regulation Policy” has gone viral on social media on October 4 evening followed by another document entitled “General Public Information”. Both the documents didn’t have any official authentication.
Meanwhile, the CADA on October 6 has rejected the DRAFT Manipur Liquor Regulation Policy 2022 issued by Manipur government after receiving the same in the evening on October 5 with a letter from Chief Minister’s Office stating that it demanded a ‘White Paper’ and hence, it will not meet with the government until it produces a white paper but will instead support any form of agitation initiated by the Nupi Samaj.
Addressing the media at its office located at Pureiromba Khongnangkhong in Imphal East, Secretary General of CADA, Geetchandra Mangang said that the draft copy of ‘Manipur Liquor Regulation Policy 2022’ will not be considered as white paper that CADA has been demanding from the government. Geetchandra said a white paper should include pros and cons on legalisation of liquor and should elaborate the queries made by the public including how the government is going to control the situation after liquor legalisation is implemented.
CADA demanded that before issuing even a draft policy, the government should make a declaration that the government has failed to ban liquor in the state under Manipur Liquor Prohibition Act, 1991 as background of the white paper. Research data should be included in the white paper highlighting health problems as said by the government, social problems, cultural norms, crime, economy and others in order to convince the public, he added.
Moreover, the present issue on liquor legalisation has been a major issue in the state whereas the draft copy has only two pages without elaborating any of the points, he said and alleged that the draft copy was issued by the government in order to distract the people from the movement carried against liquor legalisation.
The two-page ‘DRAFT Manipur Liquor Prohibition Policy’ mentioned that the aims and objectives of the Manipur Liquor Regulation Policy are to work towards: (a) Eradication of distillation, transportation, possession, consumption and sale of illicit liquor; (b) Restricting the availability of local liquor as well as IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor)/ FMFL (Foreign Made Foreign Liquor); (c) Reducing the impact of illicit and adulterated liquor on health; (d) Reducing the demand of intoxicating drinks; (e) Address the menace of illegal drugs; (f) Generating employment, and (g) Generating revenue of the state; (h) Address the problem of the black market in liquor on account of ‘prohibition’.
For each of the aims and objectives of the “Manipur Liquor Regulation Policy”, some action plans are stated in the two-page “policy”.
The government also issued a draft copy of “General Public Information” consisting of 10 points which included that every retail outlet should invariably display in bold letters that “CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL IS INJURIOUS TO HEALTH AND DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE”.
It stated that sale of liquor to person below 25 years is strictly prohibited and liable to be prosecuted and punishable under Rule 351 (C) of the Draft Manipur Excise Rules, 2022; production of Government issued identity card is mandatory when demanded; no retail vendor can be located within 100 meters of educational institutions, religious places, hospitals etc., under Rule 289 of the Draft Manipur Excise Rules, 2022.
The draft copy further stated that employment of any person below the age of 25 years in liquor vendor is a punishable offence under Rule 351 (C) of the Draft Manipur Excise Rules, 2022; drinking liquor in public places attract a fine of Rs. 5000/- with minimum of 24 hours imprisonment along with relevant punishable offences under Section 501 of IPC r/w Rule 351(B) of the Draft Manipur Excise Rules, 2022.
Drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol is a criminal offence and punishable under Section 279 of IPC r/w Section 510 of IPC, the draft warned, adding that driving a motor vehicle in a drunken state if found with Blood Alcohol Level (BAL) exceeding 30 mg of intake per 100 ml of blood detected with the help of a Breath analyser is punishable under Sec. 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
However, Geetchandra on October 6 told to the media that the CADA is not against the government but it is ready to meet with the government only after the government produce a white paper in order to convince the people on liquor legalisation, adding that the draft copy was made without the context and CADA will not comment on the draft copy until a white paper is produced.
As pointed out by the CADA, Manipur Government fails to give the background or context of prohibition of alcoholic liquor in Manipur from which a positive and clear aim and object of the policy should emerge, and other issues relating to brew, sale or use alcoholic liquors by whom, where and how etc are derivative matters.
Now, what it can be drawn from the different positions and actions shown by Manipur Government and pro-prohibitionist groups led by CADA and Nupi Samaj is that there is no a common understanding of the situation yet before considering to resolve the conflict between Manipur Government and pro-prohibitionist groups on prohibition of alcoholic liquors.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics