In the Indian state of Bihar, women worked together to make the entire state alcohol-free. The alcohol ban has been in force since 2016. It has reduced the rampant alcohol problems, such as domestic violence, and saved what were previously lost earnings due to men’s alcohol expenditure.
According to the state’s Chief Minister Nitesh Kumar since Bihar became alcohol-free, violence and crime have declined. But cross-border alcohol trade issues with neighboring Nepal are threatening these positive outcomes.
The state of Bihar is home to 100 million people and shares a border with Nepal that is more than 400 miles long.
A collection of bars and restaurants serving alcohol have sprung up in the border towns on the Nepali side.
Many Indian men cross the open border in the evenings to go to these bars and restaurants to consume alcohol. Still, others smuggle in a few bottles to Bihar despite it being illegal. Smuggled alcohol is available in Bihar for two to three times the market price.
If caught with alcohol inside Bihar the punishment is a hefty fine or a month in jail. Repeat offenders are sentenced to a year in jail.
The border issues are also causing trouble for Nepal. The border towns have been quick to capitalize on the economic opportunity of selling alcohol to Indians. However, this has given rise to serious problems on the Nepali side, including alcohol-fuelled violence.
Tackling cross-border alcohol trade issues
In close-knit regions such as the Indian subcontinent, the alcohol policies of one country affect nearby countries. The best method to resolve cross-border issues is to collaborate on alcohol policies with the bordering nations and states.
Similar cross-border alcohol issues arose in the Baltics region between Latvia and Estonia in 2019. In a reaction to low alcohol taxes in neighboring Latvia, Estonia slashed its alcohol tax by 25% which in turn led to Latvia also cutting their taxes further in a race to the bottom over fears of losing profits from cross-border alcohol trade. What resulted was a lose-lose situation for both countries. Reducing alcohol taxes will drive higher alcohol use and result in more problems for both countries. Later it was found that the Estonian tax cuts did not have any negative impact on Latvian alcohol sales even prior to Latvia’s own tax reduction.
Even within India itself, states not the federal government are in charge of alcohol policies. This has led to a checkerboard of varying policies within one country. This situation means alcohol policy needs, effects, and flaws are difficult to maintain, monitor, and evaluate. It is necessary for India to implement a comprehensive national alcohol policy following the WHO recommended alcohol policy best buys and the SAFER blue print.
Meanwhile, border states can collaborate on alcohol policies with neighboring countries to avoid cross-border issues that harm people and communities. Stronger implementation and enforcement of the policies within the state is also needed to reduce the problem.