EDITORIAL: In the wrong spirit

Govt’s booze control plan is simply bizarre; it while takes away people’s right to choose, it will also affect economic activities — badly

The government’s booze control plan is simply bizarre. First on consumption. Controlling sale of alcohol does not reduce alcohol consumption. It will rather increase risky alcohol consumption. Unauthorised sellers will crop up. Anyway, sales of bootleg trump sale of alcohol produced by licensed firms — a fact acknowledged by the government itself. And if the booze control plan comes into force, chances are high that bootleggers will thrive, which would give rise to corruption and criminality. Second on economy. Barring liquor manufacturers from advertising their products in media or through hoarding boards and posters will hamper economic activities. Liquor manufacturers are one of the biggest spenders on public programmes and they promote events through media platforms. At a time when the government has not been able to create a favourable investment climate for other sectors to flourish, such a ban on liquor marketing will result in a slowdown of economic activities.The government is planning draconian new regulations on sale, marketing and consumption of alcohol, which stakeholders say have been prepared without conducting proper studies and ignoring the sentiments of the general public. A new executive order — Control on Production, Sale and Distribution of Alcohol — prepared by the Ministry of Home Affairs is aimed at preventing bars and restaurants from serving alcoholic beverages after 10 pm, restricting alcoholic beverage manufacturers from advertising their products and not allowing liquor stores to sell alcohol after 9 pm. The government “wants” bars and restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages only after 5:00 pm and liquor stores only after 4:00 pm. And there are other many provisions related to alcohol sale and consumption. The justification is to control “excessive” drinking and that marketing “creates” more new drinkers.

There is no doubt alcohol abuse can have profound health consequences. Drink-driving is a major cause of fatalities. But the government must identify the fine line between regulation and control. Any move to control alcohol sale, consumption and marketing needs extensive and informed discussions. By setting time for buying liquor and drinking at bars and restaurants, the government is also trying to take away people’s right to choose, which is tantamount to infringement upon people’s individual liberty. And then again the government is not taking into account the multicultural fabric of Nepali society. There are many communities and societies for which alcohol is an integral part of celebrations of different sorts. The most problematic of all is the government’s intent. Recent actions of the incumbent government show it is trying to adopt more and more control measures — be it the case of barring (later retracted) protests in Maitighar or banning pornographic sites. Now it looks set to stifle economic activities — or to let entrepreneurs grow only within the cage of its control — and restrict people’s individual freedom. Instead of imposing control measures, focus should be on raising awareness on responsible drinking and hazards of harmful use of alcohol. The Oli administration must review its alcohol control plan; it is in the wrong spirit.

Reduce oil price

Sushil Bhattarai, acting deputy managing director at NOC, argues that NOC cannot reduce the price anytime soon as it did not raise prices when there was a global surge before Dashain due to government’s directive. It is injustice to the people not to slash the fuel price when there is a significant cut in the price of crude oil in international market. The NOC had adopted an automatic pricing system in fossil fuels in 2014. But it has followed the system as per its own convenience. When prices of fossil fuels surge in international markets, NOC is always in a rush to raise the prices. NOC also should take other cost cutting measures to make it a sustainable entity.The state-owned Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) is reluctant to bring prices of petroleum products down even though crude oil price has gone down in international markets. Price of crude oil came down to $60 per barrel on Tuesday from $76 per barrel a month ago. However, Nepali consumers have been denied the benefit from the fall of price of crude oil in international market. NOC says it is still at monthly loss of around Rs 800 million.