By Haroon Reshi
Srinagar: Anti-liquor campaigners in Kashmir have urged the state government to take a cue from the Bihar government to ban the sale and consumption of liquor in the Muslim-majority region.
“If Nitish Kumar’s government in Bihar can prohibit consumption and trade of liquor despite earning a revenue of a whopping Rs 6,000 crore in 2014-15, why cannot a similar step be taken in Jammu and Kashmir?” asked a host of religious, political and social organisations.
The demand was made a day after Bihar government banned alcohol trade in its cities and towns from April 5. “Nitish Kumar government’s decision is encouraging,” said Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, head of the Karwan-e-Islami, a socio-religious organisation. “If the ban is possible in Bihar, why can’t it be done in this Muslim-majority state,” Sheikh told Kashmir Reader.
Sheikh’s group is launching a state-wide campaign to garner support of civil society and the masses to demand a ban on the sale of liquor. The group moved a Public Interest Litigation in the state high court last year seeking a blanket ban on liquor sale in J&K. However, a division bench turned down the PIL with the plea that due to constitutional provisions the court cannot direct the state government to impose a ban on sale of liquor in the state.
“… Section 24 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution imposes a duty on the state to improve public health; it is not specifically dealing with bringing about prohibition on consumption of intoxicant drinks,” the court had said in its judgment.
The court, however, had asked the state government to make sure that liquor shops are not situated near educational institutions, hospitals, places of worship, and along the highways. It had also set the deadline till December 31, 2015. The state government is yet to implement the order, though.
Notably, alcohol consumption in Jammu and Kashmir has significantly swelled during past several years. A revenue of Rs 1,008 crore was generated through the sale of alcohol in 2014-15, almost double of the 2010-11 figure of Rs 695.30 crore.
In 2015, legislator Hakim Yasin submitted a bill in the state assembly seeking a ban on sale of liquor in the state. “This land is called ‘Pir Waer’ (abode of saints). Anything that is prohibited by Islam and other religions shouldn’t be allowed here,” said Yasin. “Nitish has exhibited courage by banning alcohol. Our government should follow suit,” he said.
Religious groups apart, civil society members also clamour for a ban on liquor trade. “There are obvious indications that the consumption of alcohol is rising day by day in our state. This is the right time to ban the sale and consumption of liquor. If the trade can be banned in states like Gujarat, Manipur, Nagaland and Bihar, why this can’t be banned in Jammu and Kashmir,” asked Dr Nisar-ul-Hassan, president of Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK).
“The state government has a constitutional obligation to ban the consumption of alcohol as it offends the sentiments of the majority here,” he said.
According to official data, there are as many as 225 liquor shops in the state, most of them in Jammu region. Srinagar, the summer capital of the state, has as many as five licensed wine shops, all of them operating under the watch of police and paramilitary forces.
“Five wine shops are registered (in Srinagar) but according to our survey there are several places where alcohol is being sold,” said Sheikh.
Last year, Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu informed the state assembly that as many as eight former legislators and an ex-MP have got liquor trade licenses in the state.