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July 2, 1997


Surveys kick up row over prohibition in Haryana

Vinod Behl in New Delhi

Ten months after Haryana imposed liquor prohibition, an unholy row has erupted with two surveys making contradictory claims on the policy.

While the government-sponsored survey claimed that prohibition was successful, an independent study said it had failed miserably. The damning report was prepared by Jigyasa, a survey agency floated by the students of the mass communication department, Guru Jambeshwar University, Hisar.

Covering all the districts of the state, the survey interviewed over 900 persons from different backgrounds. While 54 per cent of the respondents felt that prohibition was a failure, 36 per cent said it was partially successful. Only eight per cent of the people said it was a success.

A startling revelation made by the survey was that people were drinking openly at a bus stop in Gurgaon while a police van was patrolling the area. Besides Gurgaon, prohibition was least successful in Ambala, Sirsa and Sonepat districts.

Released at a time when Chief Minister Bansi Lal was about to complete one year in office, the scathing report raised the hackles of the state government which launched a massive damage control exercise. The government machinery went to the extent of asking the media to kill the report.

Efforts were also made to get some favourable coverage for the state government. Coming in handy was the Chandigarh-based Institute of Development and Communications's report that a majority of the people favoured prohibition.

Interviewing 6,000 people in six districts, the study concluded that 58 per cent of the alcoholics had kicked the habit following prohibition. The study claimed that liquor consumption came down by 67 per cent, but concluded that a majority of the people found prohibition impractical and useless.

However, the state prohibition department's statistics added a new twist to the controversy. Out of the 40,000 prohibition-related cases, only 991 cases (about 2.5 per cent) have been decided by the courts so far. Police follow-up in these cases was reported to be unsatisfactory.

As his government continues its war against the adverse publicity, Bansi Lal finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. He cannot lift prohibition like N Chandrababu Naidu did in Andhra Pradesh. It would mean accepting defeat after making tall claims -- that the policy has met with 85 per cent success. On the contrary, making the law more stringent may prove counter-productive in the absence of support from religious and social organisations.

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