The Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act (NLTPA) was enacted by the Nagaland Legislative Assembly in 1989. This Act had to be enacted under the pressure of the NBCC whose volunteers resorted to fasting for weeks together that compelled the erstwhile Congress Govt. headed by the then Chief Minister Dr. S.C. Jamir to enact the law by which Nagaland became a Dry State. The NBCC was not the first institute or the organisation that opposed the State being wet. There are historical instances of adopting liquor prohibition laws by governments in the world resulting into ultimate shambles. Yet, the instances of such unsuccessful liquor prohibition stories did not deter the NBCC to pursue the ban of import of liquor into Nagaland.
The NLTPA is not namesake law and yet when it has been kept redundant it becomes namesake.
The liquor prohibition has to do with both physical and spiritual wellbeing of the Nagas and more so as Christians. Knowing the immense adverse impact of alcoholism on the life of an alcoholic individual and the subsequent destruction of his/her family including the same negative impact on the society at large, the NBCC managed to impose its will on the Govt. for a noble cause. Therefore, in principle, what the NBCC did was correct as it aimed at rescuing thousands of the Nagas from alcoholic prisons. The take off of the enforcement of the NLTP Act was not discouraging and yet the steam died down faster than it initially thought to be and just ended in blame game. The Church was not satisfied with the enforcement of the law by the State Govt. whereas the latter expected much practical cooperation from the Church since the Act was its brainchild.
Obviously the middlemen, the bootleggers, came at the right time into the scene taking the advantage of the lackadaisical attitude of both the Church and of the State Govt. The declaration of Nagaland as ‘Dry State’ became the golden mine of the bootleggers. I wrote a brief opinion on the prohibition which was published by Morung Express on 13.6.2014. I am reiterating that both the bootleggers and the Church adopted the same posture as for keeping Nagaland dry is concerned although their interests are contrary to each other. 31 years have passed since the NLTP Act was enacted. The three decades are the golden era for the bootleggers as they have been making hay of unhindered illegal business. Particularly, the kingpins of bootlegging most possibly have become the assets to the Church, to the political parties and to the powerful organisations for obvious reason that they are rich today.
Having touched upon the brief background, I now appreciate the Dimapur Naga Students’ Union(DNSU) for the befitting initiatives it has undertaken in the interest of all including all those who publicly expressed their solidarity with the DNSU. In fact, if the State Govt. is positive and becomes proactive to properly enforce the prohibition law, there will be spontaneous public support. However, the ongoing raids by the Excise Department must not be subjective but its operations against the violators of the law have to be holistic.
As we all know something about the liquor business in Dry Nagaland, to the law enforcers, the small particles do irritate their eyes but never the bigger pegs do. To my understanding of this business in Dry Nagaland is that there are two categories: one is the illegally legal and the second is the illegally illegal. By the first category trade, it is reliably learnt that a high stake tender used to be floated involving even a crore or more of rupees as tender fee. Such underground tender might have involved not only one legal or illegal authority but few others including possibly the legal enforcers. I exposed this modus operandi in the same article dated 13.6.2014 which is vindicated by the news item under the caption “Powerful world of liquor syndicate’ published in Nagaland Post dated 2.3.2020.
To be conclusive with such perception is how trucks loaded with liquor of all varieties are being transported from Dimapur to Kohima regularly are never detected by Excise police is most possibly because of those liquor trucks used to be transformed into invisibility by the magical power of high stake tender. On reaching Kohima, only once in a blue moon or so, perhaps the few loaded trucks became detectable and therefore seized by the Assam Rifles and not by Nagaland Police or by Excise Department. The liquor trade under the said tender is therefore illegally legal for the fact that though the trade is illegal under the prohibition Act, to those authorities who connived with the liquor syndicate, the transportation of any amount of consignments to any location are permissible as the syndicate was issued such ‘license’ under the given ‘tender’. The second category liquor traders are considered illegally illegal. These traders are comparatively petty suppliers of liquor and are considered as illegal traders even by the partners of the liquor syndicate. To substantiate this observation is that these petty traders are hardly spared by either Nagaland Police or Excise Department on duty in seizing their liquor items on transit.
This being how Nagaland has been enforcing the NLTP Act, the inflow of liquor into Nagaland is regular and adequate for the consumers during the last 31 years. Excepting that the NLTP Act debarred the Excise Department from realizing the normal revenue, the rate of liquor is several times costlier and the free flow of inferior quality liquor plus the spurious liquor which is injurious to health of the consumer cannot be restricted. Only God knows how many people in Nagaland have become the victims of the spurious liquor imported into our State.
The ground realities are known to everybody and particularly to the Excise Department, and yet this Department has chosen to sleep over it for the last three decades. Only when the DNSU served ultimatum to the Department, it woke up and started raids of few outlets in Dimapur as if it has remained unaware of the liquor business and the existence of shops selling liquor illegally for decades. The Excise Department has its history of embezzling 43% of a huge haul of liquor as alleged by the ACAUT some 6 years ago and to which the Department failed to clarify. Be it the Excise Department or any other Department so established under the Govt. of Nagaland is not supposed to become proactive solely on the condition of being fuelled by public ultimatums. When an established Department becomes bereft of accountability and sensibility to the welfare of the common man, it only remains unnecessary burden on the State’s exchequer and therefore it should be wound off.
The raids so far undertaken are good but not enough. The raids alone cannot bring the import of liquor to its end here in Nagaland lest the strong syndicates established and in existence for decades under the patronage of a joint venture codenamed the ‘tender’ are uprooted. Will the Excise Department have the same amount of gut to dismantle the syndicates and expose those kingpins, the ‘legal suppliers, and book them under the law as much gut it has to raid petty bootleggers?
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