Mizoram Vidhan Sabha polls: Alcohol traders drink to a Congress win as MNF threatens revenues with a five-year-long dry day

Joseph Lalrintluanga | Nov 27, 2018 | 5 min read


Head: Alcohol a major influencer in Mizoram elections

Byline Joseph Lalrintluanga

Mizoram goes to polls on November 28. In the forefront are the ruling Congress party, the Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Zoram Peoples' Movement (ZPM). The Congress is seeking third term, while the main opposition, MNF, vows to brush aside the Lal Thanhawla-led government. One issue that finds prominence this election season is that of the alcohol issue.

The Congress lifted the ban on sales of alcohol in 2014, with the implementation of the Mizoram Liquor Prohibition and Control Act (MLPC) 2014, replacing the Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act of 1995. The first wine shop opened in Aizawl on March 16, 2015, after eighteen long years. When it opened, there were long queues outside for days, with people waiting to buy legally-sold whiskey and rum.

The MLPC Act kicked off with the opening of three wine shops in Aizawl, which were run by state-owned corporations, namely Zoram Industrial Development Corporation (ZIDCO), Mizoram Food and Allied Industries Corporation Ltd. (MIFCO) and Mizoram Agricultural Marketing Corporation Limited (MAMCO). According to a ZIDCO official, Zoa, the average alcohol sales every day for almost five months amounted to Rs. 8 lakh. Now, however, the MNF promises a complete ban on alcohol if they win the elections, citing the bad influence of the alcohol culture. The discussions doing rounds now is that if one wants to have quality wine for another five years, they must vote for Congress. But, if one wants to buy low-quality liquor at higher prices for five years, only then should they vote for MNF.

Liansuama, one of MNF's advisors, said that if MNF wins the elections this time, total prohibition will be implemented as soon as possible. “People struggling with drug and alcohol addiction will be delivered from their bondage of sins through the services of NGOs and church efforts," he said.

While the MNF is vehemently against the liquor business, Lallianchhunga, Congress spokesman, said that alcohol is not an issue at all, but the secret alliance between MNF and BJP is what is the real issue this election, he added.

Meanwhile, the largest Christian organisation, the Presbyterian church's Social Front, which studied the effects of alcohol in society, issued a 42-page report last year. It found that alcohol-related deaths in Mizoram had increased after lifting the prohibition. The survey said that alcohol-related deaths in Aizawl's four hospitals accounted for 16.32 per cent of the total deaths.

The survey interviewed 873 people, in which 93.81 per cent believed that alcohol causes a "negative impact on society", while 63 per cent people wanted total prohibition of liquor.

Reverend F Lalrinnunga, chairman of Mizoram Kohhran Hruaitute Committee (all-Churches organisation) says, "As members of the Mizoram Kohhran Hruaitute Committee (MKHC) we don't say have anything to say about prohibition." He adds that the biggest church in Mizoram, the Presbyterian Church Synod, had appealed to the government not to lift the prohibition, but failed in its attempt.

State BJP President JV Hluna says that if they win the election and form a government, they will stop all liquor imports from other states, but will encourage locally-made liquor.

Lallianchhunga adds that, as a party, they will have no hesitation in lifting the MLPC Act and reinstating the prohibition. But that would be after careful consultation with party workers and the church bodies, and only after going through the results of a study conducted by the state government, he said.

*Alcohol vendors vouching for Congress win*

Meanwhile, alcohol vendors and suppliers, who have invested lots of money in the industry, are worried about the outcome of the elections. If the ruling Congress loses the battle, it will mean the end of their high-yielding three-year business.

V Lalliantluanga, a liquor vendor in Aizawl, says that if the Congress does not win the elections this time, and if the alcohol ban comes into effect, he'll have to look for a new job, along with several others in the industry.

To purchase alcohol in the state, one would need a liquor permit, which is issued by the Excise and the Narcotics Department. This liquor permit puts a strict limit on alcohol, allowing only six bottles of hard liquor and 10 bottles of wine and beer for “personal bonafide consumption”. Those who visit the state can purchase alcohol by furnishing their inner-line permit.

*Main sources of income for state*

The excise department's website reveals that alcohol-related deaths went up from 22 in 2016 to 59 in 2017. However, a high-ranking official from the department said that the sale of alcohol has gone down tremendously in the past year, which means that people are now more aware of their health and spending. “As a society, we have learned how to drink more responsibly,” he said.

Now, there are 48 liquor shops in Mizoram. The proceeds from the alcohol business is on one of the main sources of revenue for the state government. In the latest report obtained from the department during the past financial year (April 2017 to March 2018), the revenue received under the MLPC Act was Rs. 65.68 crore, surpassing the target of Rs. 51.5 crore for the year.

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