Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gujarat’s Prohibition.

I have been schooling in the state of Gujarat in India for the last four years. It is one of the few places in India that still has a prohibition on consuming liquor. If you are wondering whether liquor is available contrary to established laws then yes – it is available and it is no secret. Historically, the ban was in place before India's independence and has continued to stay in place in an attempt to uphold the "values" of Mahatma Gandhi's. The man also wanted to ban beef and whatnot.

After consuming illicit liquor, about 136 people had died last month in the State's capital city. Critics have zeroed the cause of death to the prohibition imposed by the State. The prohibition outlaws the manufacture and sale of liquor in the State. Those who cannot afford the smuggled liquor fall back on illicit liquor which is literally speaking – the highway to hell. Smuggles don't face competition on a free market and as a consequence don't face bankruptcy. Competition absent, they have little or no thought for their reputation when they end up killing people with adulterated liquor. Most people who would have otherwise provided quality booze disappear because smuggling liquor is illegal and even face a death penalty for bootlegging. At least two commissions, one headed by Justice M N Miabhoy and another later by Justice A A Dave had said that prohibition has not worked well.

Undeterred, the ministers are coming up with twisted arguments to still keep the prohibition. For instance, the Ministers have stated repeatedly that deaths by illicit liquor have occurred in other parts of the country and are not exclusive to Gujarat. However, this does not provide any indication as to why the deaths happened in the first place. I think most people consume illicit liquor in other parts of the country for the same reason they consume it in Gujarat where there is a prohibition. In the case of Gujarat, it is smuggled liquor and in the case of the rest of the country its taxed liquor. In most cases, the taxes imposed on liquor are prohibitively high for the purpose of "constructive social change" or whatnot resulting in the fact that not many can afford safe liquor and end up drinking illicit liquor which is available for a cheaper price.

I think the minister's observation that people elsewhere [not living under prohibition] are also dying from consuming illicit liquor has profound significance – just not in the way he would like us see. The prohibition in Gujarat forces people to consume adulterated liquor if they wish to have a drink by eliminating competition while taxes in other States force people to resort to adulterated liquor which would not have been the case in the absence of taxes. In both the cases, the principle that the government shouldn't dictate the way I choose to live my life is conceded. The only real difference between both the cases is that of measurement or of how much intrusion by the government is acceptable.

The question debated is not whether the government should violate both the rights of the seller and the buyer by making it impossible for them to agree to a certain price but what is being debated is how to curb the deaths by illicit liquor while ignoring the cause that led to the deaths itself: government intervention. Without the prohibition and the taxes, buyers would be left free to buy safe liquor provided by sellers. If the seller sold adulterated stuff, he would be held liable and charged accordingly in a Court of law. Cheaper prices means buyers would have more money left to invest or spend elsewhere entailing more jobs and more wealth for all.

Any of this doesn't mean that one should associate themselves with alcoholics and their likes in a free society. To the contrary, one is free not to associate with or not finance their booze. But when the government steps in enacting laws prohibiting trade in liquor – the field is left open for all sorts of twisted individuals to sell illicit liquor without any regard to reputation of their product nor to human life.

The only real alternative to death is the path of freedom. The path where people are left free to think and then act accordingly to one's highest judgment. Man doesn't live by means fangs, claws or the legs of a cheetah. His sole means of survival is thought followed up by action. The government can choose to ban the liberty to think and act on it but it cannot choose to escape the consequences of its policies. Man is man and if one ignores the requirements of human life then death necessarily follows.

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