NLTP: The elephant in the room

Moral contest, propensity to consume and dud

Imkong Walling 
Dimapur | January 22

The Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition (NLTP) Act 1989 has remained at best the proverbial elephant that no one wants to stroke. Apparently a conscientious victory, utter failure to implement the law since then has not only diluted the underlying moral cause but also brought into question its significance and applicability. 

Into the 30th year since it came into force in 1989, the enactment remains as contentious as ever and opinions divided. The intervening years have been interspersed with apparent bids to rake up the issue by successive governments. Such manoeuvres however have faced opposition from the Church, meeting premature ends no sooner than it started.  

The debate has pitted ethics against profits - the Church’s moral justification and the government’s typical revenue mantra - transforming into a virtual stalemate as liquor continues to flow and the Act plainly a failure. 

State government officials and legislators have over the years branded the NLTP Act a failure. Once confined to select circles, the discussion today has spilled over to the public arena. With the advent of social media dissenting voices over the Act have also grown more audible. 

Independent polls over the years have pointed to an increased public pessimism towards the Act. Public polls conducted by The Morung Express between 2013 and 2018 have returned with the results stacked heavily in favour of a review. 

As for the enforcement agency responsible for implementing the Act, it remains officially mum as ever. The official silence notwithstanding, the department’s personnel have often made candid admissions but in unofficial capacities.

But why has it failed?

According to the faceless voices within the department, “Propensity to consume” together with “situational difficulties” has largely contributed to the NLTP debacle.  

As per one Nagaland Excise staff, demand has always posed a big challenge to enforcement. He was posed with the query, why has the Act been a failure?

For comparison’s sake, statistics point to a high liquor consumption rate in Nagaland. In the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) index, dating to 2011-12, consumption-wise Nagaland ranked higher than Meghalaya, where there is no state restriction on alcohol. 

The per capital consumption per week in Meghalaya was 123ml as compared to Nagaland’s 182ml per capita per week. During the same period, Mizoram (Prohibition era), the per capita consumption per week stood at 31ml. 

“No matter what, people will always want to drink and when there is demand, there will be suppliers,” the staff commented on condition of anonymity.

He said that history has proven it like it failed in the USA.  In India, it happened in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Manipur and Mizoram. It was a classic scenario in all the cases – a booming liquor black market like in Nagaland. 

Mizoram’s version of the NLTP - the Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act, 1995 was replaced by the Mizoram Liquor Prohibition and Control (MLPC) Act, 2014. The MLPC came into force in early 2015 partially lifting the ban in its 7 districts, while total Prohibition remained in effect in 3 Autonomous Council territories. 

However, the Mizoram state government is considering revoking the MLPC Act – an election promise of the now ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) government.  

“Like in Nagaland, Mizoram faced a serious case of bootlegging during the Prohibition era,” the Excise staff said. Deaths attributed to spurious liquor was also reported, while an increased use of recreational drugs and local brew was also observed. No independent data was however provided to support the claim. 

He further justified the ongoing development in Mizoram to re-impose Prohibition as driven more by the party’s (manifesto) development agenda and not “pressure from the church.” 

In the MNF’s case, he maintained, “Surprisingly, the party’s socio-economic policy have sidelined liquor as a means to generate revenue for the state.” In most states of India, revenue from liquor figures prominently in the annual total receipts. 

An under-staffed Excise department is also partially to blame, he held. Making a comparison with Mizoram, he informed that the Nagaland State Excise department has a field strength of 335 personnel, while Mizoram’s, with a population of 11 lakhs, is double that of Nagaland. 

“Situational constraints” or the state’s security situation have also contributed to nullifying enforcement measures “despite our best efforts,” he added. He declined to dwell any further on this citing its “sensitive.”