Kohima, Aug. 1: Nagaland chief minister T.R. Zeliang has said he would request the governor to convene a special Assembly session to debate whether to lift prohibition from the state.
Zeliang said he was ready for a full debate on Nagaland Total Prohibition Act, 1989, if members of the House agreed.
But sources said the state government was likely to take a cue from Mizoram, which partially lifted prohibition recently.
All have agreed to lift of the act on the ground that Nagaland has become the “wettest dry state” in the country, except the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), which had forced the state to pass the act.
Sources said other churches were not averse to the idea of lifting the prohibition act but it was the Baptist church that still sticks to its stand, which has also received a lot of criticism.
The state government said there are only 200 excise personnel in the state to enforce the act and admitted that prohibition has become a total failure in the state whereas Assam has been gaining crores of rupees because of this. All illegal and spurious liquor is transported to the state from Assam. Lahorijan and Khatkati, near the Nagaland border, have dozens of illegal distilleries, liquor shops and bars. Assam is also contemplating opening a new distillery at Khatkati. Sources said militants and the mafia run most of the illegal distilleries and depots in these two towns but the government is not in a position to take action against them.
Even in Minister Hill in Kohima, most of the shops sell IMFL and foreign liquor bottled in Myanmar, China and Thailand.
Naga Hoho, the apex Naga organisation, has welcomed the state’s decision to convene a special session to discuss the prohibition act. It said the act has failed “miserably” and there is a need to discuss its merits and demerits. The Hoho said the act has become a farce and therefore the government should affirm whether to uphold or review it. Fr. George Rino of Catholic Cathedral, Kohima, also favoured lifting of prohibition. He said consumption of spurious liquor has claimed several lives in the state. Rino said those who are engaged in illegal business have been supporting the church’s stand on lifting prohibition.
The NBCC said the challenge before them is to carry out the prohibition crusade on a war footing “We, the NBCC will oppose any move to go back from this commitment. We are open to any constructive arguments in this issue, provided the general well-being of the people of the state is ensured. Any move to lift prohibition will be confronted with undoubted protests,” Rev. L. Kari Longchar said.
Seminars and awareness campaigns on alcohol by the church have also failed in the state. The NBCC hoped that prohibition would eliminate corrupting influences on society. The prohibition act itself has become a major source of corruption, according to Naga organisations.
Everyone from politicians, bureaucrats, top militants to the cops on the beat take bribes from bootleggers, crime bosses and owners of speakeasies.
Today, most of the illegal bars and lounges in Dimapur are either owned by militants or are in connivance with the mafia and militants, said Katovi Swu, a young Naga youth. He said the bars and lounges near East police station in Dimapur speaks volumes about the inability of the police to act against the mafia and that the Baptist church wanted to overlook such an issue.