Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla’s comments hinting at a review of the state’s 18-year-old prohibition law at a talk show this week may not be the definitive answer many are seeking, but it was hardly surprising given the split public opinion alcohol evokes in the state.
On one hand, the CM said what most agree on - that youth are dying en masse from drinking spurious alcohol, a fact even the Governor pointed out a few weeks ago. But later in the interview, Thanhawla stood by the actions of voluntary organisations at the forefront of an ongoing campaign against alcohol and drugs and counter-questioned the talk show host, “So do you mean to say that the actions of the Young Mizo Association are completely wrong?” He went on to say “outsiders” (read ethnic Mizos from outside the state, including Myanmar) are amassing wealth through drug trafficking and selling moonshine as well as illegal alcohol and are buying property off the “sons of the soil”, a rhetoric often used by voluntary organisations to justify occasional forced evictions of bootleggers and drug dealers.
Mizoram’s attempt to curb alcohol is interlinked with its attempt to stop narcotics, and it was indeed local and neighbourhood groups who were most active in pre-prohibition days, volunteers staying up nights in duty shacks to make sure localities are free of drunkards and junkies.
The dry state boasts of peaceful environs. At just 2,520 cases registered under the IPC and non-IPC provisions in 2012, it has one of the country’s lowest crime rates. Murder accounted for just 29 of these, prohibition 440, the second highest after theft, which was anyway low at 643. Tourism also plays an important factor in prohibition review, at least in government corridors, with tourist inflow more than doubling in the past decade. However, the law does allow tourists to bring their own alcohol.
But the mood is anything but for lifting prohibition. At the Prohibition Council’s last meeting two-months-ago, the council said it was not in favour of lifting prohibition unless law enforcement agencies are better empowered, and in fact advocated making the law stricter, even to the point of cancelling land ownership of those whose premises are used by bootleggers.
If prohibition is indeed lifted, alcohol-money may be tempting as the state has a debt about 13 times its resources and nine-tenths of its revenue comes from the Centre.
Adam is a principal correspondent based in