The Draft Liquor Policy is just a Paper to hoodwink the public. It can never be treated as a White Paper for deliberation and debate for there is nothing about Understanding the Framework on which the government bases its decision.
By Amar Yumnam
When a social issue arises, the FIRST IMPERATIVE is to be sincere by all to what one does relating to the issue at hand. There should be no wrongful reference to the Facts relating to the matter and no presentation of documents in surreptitious ways. The debate consequent upon the lifting of prohibition happens to be the one where unfortunately these unwanted characteristics are getting abound as the debate becomes more critical.
One silly reference and wrongful quotations of survey results of the National Family Health Survey are doing rounds; this should be avoided. The Fifth Round relating to this Survey relates to the period 2019-21. Besides the combined National Reports, there are separate reports on every State detailing the data. In the Manipur Report, the data on Tobacco and Alcohol Use are given in Table 94 on page 160 depending on responses from sample population of ages 15 to 49; the sample size for women is about eight times larger than that of male in Manipur. In the case of women, there is nothing to be concerned except in the case of eating what is locally known as Zarda Pan; here the percentage crosses 30. Among women, only 0.4 percent in urban and 0.5 percent in rural areas smoke cigarettes. When it comes to alcohol, only 1.8 percent in urban and 1.4 percent in rural of Manipuri women drink alcohol. Without a complete examination of the figures, the tobacco (zarda paan) consumption data are being quoted as alcohol use data; this should be immediately corrected. The alcohol consumption figure for male stands at 42.2 percent in urban and 52.1 percent in the rural areas of Manipur.
My immediate provocation for this piece is the limited circulation of a so-called Draft Liquor Policy. This draft paper has presumably been circulated to serve the purpose of a White Paper, which some of the leading organisations spearheading the move to review the decision on lifting prohibition in Manipur.
To begin with, I do wish that the Government had put out this paper openly in the public domain instead of the present limited circulation. Further the haphazard way of the draft is very painful. The earlier shady and incongruous application of mind is still evident in this as well. In other words, the hasty decision for lifting the prohibition and the consequent public outrage have failed to awake the mind of the administration to full conscientiousness.
Whether it is a White Paper or a Draft Policy, at this juncture it can only be a Discussion Paper. In whatever name the paper is brought about, it is imperative that the Government should spell out in unequivocal terms the Background/Context which necessitated the presentation of a new policy. This is the paper which would make the Government’s understanding of the issue/s in context understandable to the public. Let us look at how White/Discussion/Policy Papers are presented to the public by the governments/layers of governments around the globe. The first part of any such paper would explain the rationale for the new policy being envisaged. This is the part which reveals the Ethos and Values with which the government has functioned to appreciate the context and perceived the realities of the context. It would also specify the route through which the government plans to ameliorate the situation.
There is no such thing in the Draft Policy paper which has made the rounds. The Draft Paper starts with the mentioning of seven (a to h) Aims and Objectives. Well, the norm of Policy Making is that the Aims and Objectives should emerge from the Perception and Understanding of the issue/s being spelt out by the government; this is how it is done globally. The Aims and Objectives cannot fall from the sky, but should necessarily be an internally consistent product of the understanding of the issue/s.
The following are the Aims and Objectives given in the two-page document:
- “Eradication of distillation, transportation, possession, consumption and sale of illicit liquor
- Restricting the availability of local liquor as well as IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor)/ FMFL (Foreign Made Foreign Liquor)
- Reducing the impact of illicit and adulterated liquor on health
- Reducing the demand of intoxicating drinks
- Address the menace of illegal drugs
- Generating employment, and
- Generating revenue of the state
- Address the problem of the black market in liquor on account of ‘prohibition’”
In the present case of Manipur, the government paper starts with just the mentioning of the aims and objectives, and thus leaves many questions unanswered. First, for one, we cannot understand from which angle a particular objective has emerged. Second, there is a huge problem and naturally at that of internal inconsistency among the Objectives; any policy should not be accompanied by the suicidal component of internal inconsistency.
As stated in the beginning, it is impossible to make out what kind of a paper the two-page document is; no government with values and commitment would come out with such kind of a paper; there is no Spelling Out of the Context/Background in which the Government is thinking of something. It is not possible to make out how the Aims and Objectives (a) to (e) have been derived and founded on; the rationale is not spelt out. As regards Objectives (f) and (g), they can at best be the by-products of a policy and cannot be the initial points of rationality and discussions on it can come later. The last, Objective (h), is just a question of ineffective governance, and the government is thinking of addressing it by large scale introduction of the commercialization process. Now the question is how commercialization a remedy for governance failures. There are lots of sectoral, ethical and cultural issues to be taken care of. Is the Government planning to wash her hands off by leaving the things to the commercial world?
The paper does talk of social sector intervention. But how are the Information Education and Health issues brought in a framework of large-scale commercialization of liquor; the people already know fully well the efficacy or rather lack of it on the social sector performance of the Government. As regards the mention of 10 – 20 % of the so-called by-product of the revenue being reserved for employment generation can be the joke of the year. A White Paper being a discussion paper should first SPELL OUT the entire framework and approach before making such ridiculous statements.
Overall, it is just a Paper to hoodwink the public. It can never be treated as a White Paper for deliberation and debate for there is nothing about Understanding and Framework on which the government bases the decision.
(Amar Yumnam is Visiting Professor at CESS: Hyderabad)