Ahmedabad, Feb. 22: Mahatma Gandhi's birthplace is falling back on ahimsa to tackle tipplers. But many are wondering whether India's only surviving dry state is preparing itself to relax the prohibition.
The Gujarat government has moved an amendment bill that seeks to replace imprisonment with 'a humane approach' if anyone is caught consuming intoxicants.
Home minister Amit Shah, who tabled the Bombay Prohibition (Gujarat Amendment) Bill, 2005, in the Assembly yesterday, said the new law would focus on rehabilitation and education.
'The accused will have to render community service and thereafter he would be sent for medical treatment to get de-addicted,' Shah added.
Under the Bombay Prohibition Act of 1949 ' Gujarat and Maharashtra were part of the same state till 1961 ' offenders could be sent to prison for at least three months for flouting the ban.
Shah said 12 lakh unresolved prohibition cases had triggered the need for the amendment and that police had seized liquor worth Rs 52 crore this year.
The amendment could reduce the number of cases, he added, but ruled out any dilution of the law. The government was 'just adopting a more humane approach and there is no question of relaxing the four-decade-old prohibition policy', the minister told the Assembly.
Sources said the government may have been prompted by the negative feedback from industry ' especially information technology, hotels and tourism ' about the 'archaic dry law' which, they said, was coming in the way of attracting foreign investment.
Having sensed the mood, the 'pro-active' Narendra Modi government moved to send positive signals to industry and potential foreign investors, the sources added.
Rajendrasinh Rana, state president of the ruling BJP, justified the government's 'positive timely step', saying: 'We need to move with time and change the law if it is becoming a hindrance. There is nothing sacrosanct about the prohibition law. We will have to be realistic in this fast-changing competitive world, if we want to survive.' Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia, however, said it was a 'clever move to relax prohibition' through the 'back door'.
The leader of the Opposition warned that 'the amendment in the current form will lead to rampant liquor consumption as the accused will not fear the law'. Modhwadia asked the government to set up a committee to look into the nexus between police and liquor vendors and work on flaws in the act.
Veteran Gandhian Chhuni Vaidya said the amendment shows the government's intention to lift prohibition. 'I can see that happening. The day is not very far when prohibition will be completely lifted,' the 87-year-old said. 'And I do not see any groups of social workers going to agitate against the government. It is a lost battle now.'