How Odisha gram panchayats said ‘no’ to alcohol for decades

How Odisha gram panchayats said ‘no’ to alcohol for decades

A man have taking locally brewed alcohol in an Indian village.

A man have taking locally brewed alcohol in an Indian village.
| Photo Credit: The Hindu

Even as liquor shops mushroom across Odisha, where the excise revenue skyrocketed by an astonishing 368% within the last decade, a group of seven gram panchayats in the State’s tribal heartland of Rayagada district have chosen a different path. 

Decades ago, villagers in the region had consciously chosen not to allow the sale of either liquor or tobacco products in their neighbourhoods. The tradition continued to be followed by local tribal villages The community prohibition on sale of liquor assumes even greater significance since consumption of country-made liquor is often associated with tribal culture and tradition. 

“I don’t remember the year from when the prohibition on the sale of liquor in villages came into force. I have not found any availability of liquor in shops since my childhood,” said Asia Sabar, a young Sarpanch of Putasingh gram panchayat of this southern Odisha district. 

One would rarely find liquor or tobacco in shops in gram panchayats such as Talana, Sagada, Abada, Putasingh, Jaltar, Chinasari and Kulusing near Gunupur of Rayagada district. These gram panchayats are inhabited by ‘Saura’ tribe and majority of them have embraced Christianity. 

“There is an unwritten norm that no one can sell liquor or tobacco in villages. There is, however, no prohibition on consumption of alcohol by people outside gram panchayat jurisdiction. We also cannot control individual behaviour,” said Inan Sabar, former Sarpanch of Talana gram panchayat. 

At community level, villagers have adopted strong policy against sale of liquor and tobacco. “If anyone is found attempting selling liquor in villages, we usually issue an initial warning. If the sale is not stopped immediately, a village committee meeting is convened. Based on resolution passed in the meeting, strict action is taken against violator,” said Ramati Sabar, President of Talana Woman Self Help Group. 

She said, “Villagers even follow non-cooperation policy avoiding attending social functions including marriages and death rituals of accused person. They are also not invited to functions of other villagers.” 

“Easy access to liquor often increases its consumption. The domestic violence which is often caused by liquor consumption is comparatively low in all these panchayats. People have resolved not to allow the sale of these products in future too,” said Mayani Sabar, a woman of Kilung village.   

Anti-liquor campaigners have long been expressing concerns over easy availability of liquors for tipplers. People in villages no more have to travel to nearest urban centres to fetch alcohol for them as liquor is available right in their neighbourhood, they say. 

Though Odisha’s Excise Policy (Excise Fee, Duty and Margin Structure) 2023-24 does not encourage opening new liquor shops in rural areas, the monthly quota liquor stock in existing shops has, however, been increased. The lack of strong enforcement activities has worsened the matter, and as a result, illegal liquor traders are flourishing in rural areas. 

Odisha government recently informed the State Assembly that ₹1379.91 crore of excise revenue was collected in 2011-12. In 2022-23, the collection went up by 368% to ₹6455.06 crore. By 2022-23, there are 509 main liquor shops, 1,240 branch shops, 35 military canteens, 46 beer parlour shops, and 673 beer on-shops operating in Odisha. The resolute stance against liquor and tobacco sale in villages for several years has come has refreshing assertions.

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