Prohibition of Alcoholic Beverages in India

The historical background for India in terms of prohibition suggests the inclination of the government towards prohibition since independence. This inclination is also evident from the directive principle enshrined in the constitution, which considers rising of the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people as among its primary duties and prohibiting intoxicating drinks and drugs which are injurious to health except for its medicinal purpose.

The prohibition although was of government interest since independence but it was not effective in implementation.

The major causes identified for laxity in enforcement were: obstruction on the part of certain influential persons who are addicts and who do not want to give up drink; reluctance on the part of villagers to inform the police about illicit distillation activities. Thus it was considered public co-operation is the best guarantee for the success of a reform like prohibition.

By the year 1954, the experiment of prohibition was considered to be failed in Andhra as admitted by the prohibition minister then.

The administration in the three departments namely co-operative, the prohibition, and the police, was considered broken down. It was found that 50 to 100 percent of old addicts continue to drink, rather they drink much worst quality than in the pre-prohibition days. It was recommended to restore free and unrestricted consumption of toddy and rationing of foreign liquors and sale at moderate prices to put illicit distilleries out of their business of selling poisonous stuff. The annual loss due to the prohibition policy came to be about Rs 461 lakhs.

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The Prohibition inquiry Committee appointed by the Planning Commission in December 1954 suggested the following recommendations:

  1. Prohibition will succeed only if everybody in society desires it and is prepared to work for it.
  2. Opinion has to be created through education and propaganda, and through preventive measures such as a progressive reduction in the supply of alcoholic drinks, avoidance of conspicuous consumption of intoxicants in public places, banning of advertisement of such articles etc.
  3. The real implementation of the programme lies with the police and the judiciary.
  4. All offenses connected with illicit distillation and sale of liquor etc. are to be made non-bailable and the punishments imposed should be of a really deterrent nature; provision of adequate protection to witnesses.
  5. Besides the punitive aspect, the Committee has dealt at length with the financial and employment angles to the policy.
  6. Bombay suggested annual reduction by 25 percent of the supply of liquor, a gradual reduction in the number of liquor shops, etc.

The policies by the year 1955 differed significantly with respect to intoxicants other than opium. Taxation Enquiry Report:

  1. Complete Prohibition – Bombay. Madras, Andhra, and Saurashtra.
  2. Partial Prohibition – Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Mysore, Orissa, Travancore, Cochin and Coorg; States with some dry areas Assam and Punjab; States observing a temperance policy Bihar, West Bengal and Madhya Bharat; In the remaining States Hyderabad, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Ajmer, Bhopal, Delhi, and Vindhya Pradesh there is neither a policy of partial prohibition nor even of temperance.

It was observed that the vast majority of the people in any state are quite indifferent about prohibition. Drinking is confined to only a section of people the semi westernized at one end, and the mill hands, and some of the lower classes at the other. Furthermore, the vast bulk of the people have no particular opinion about prohibition and no hard feelings, for or against, an exception is Punjab, where drinking was much more widespread than in any other State.

The revenue loss and inefficacy of prohibition further led to relaxations in the state of Maharashtra by 1964. The primary intention although was to protect the public from the illicit distiller, the bootlegger, and the trafficker. The means by which this was to be achieved were;

  1. Beverages with an alcoholic content not exceeding 3.5 percent were to be made freely available,
  2. If toddy with alcoholic content not exceeding 3.5 percent can be made available, it was to be sold freely under Government control.
  3. The issue of permits for foreign liquor to persons above 40 to be liberalized. Only those below 40 shall need a health permit from a medical board.
  4. Manufacture of liquor and making of wine to be permitted and the number of the licensed wholesaler in liquor to be suitably increased.

The year 1975 further marked the emergence of the idea of total prohibition in the country, yet the day after the announcement of the Centre’s measures, the Maharashtra government declared that shops, hotels, restaurants, and clubs will continue to serve liquor as usual. On October 3 West Bengal government decided ‘to maintain the status quo with regard to the sale and public drinking of alcoholic beverages’.

In the year 1984, Uttarakhand Sangharsh Vahini (USV) led the anti-alcohol movement has raised wider questions of social and political importance. The causes that led to the movement were: liquor trade has been accompanied by evils such as the selling of women into prostitution in the cities of Northern India, increased crime and the theft of valuable antiques from the unguarded temples of the hills and close involvement, at all levels, of the revenue and judicial bureaucracy. The major demands put forth by the agitation were: a complete ban on liquor in Uttarakhand, the sale of medicines and other fluids having more than 18 percent alcohol content to be disallowed, Programmes to generate employment in the hill areas to be undertaken by the state.

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Prohibition of Alcoholic Beverages in India. (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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