HC Deb 04 July 1881 vol 262 cc1937-9

asked the Secretary of State for India, Whether it was already known early in 1880 that the Excise Revenue of British Burma had largely increased, and that the most of this increase was due to an increase in the consumption of opium; whether the consumption of alcoholic drinks is spreading both in Burma and Bengal, and the revenue from the Excise Department on the sale of intoxicating liquor increases annually; whether the statement is accurate that in the single year 1879–80 the number of shops licensed by the Government to sell intoxicating spirits to the native population increased from 3,911 to 4,981; whether it is the case that instructions are issued to the administrative officials throughout the various collectorates and sub-collectorates to ascertain in what districts Government drink shops can be opened with the greatest profit to the Revenue; and, whether complaints have been repeatedly addressed to the authorities that these proceedings of the Revenue authorities are steadily sapping and ruining the sober habits of the Indian community, and constantly creating circles of habitual drinkers in every district?


In May, 1880, the Chief Commissioner of British Burmah drew attention to the growth of Excise Revenue in that Province, which it appeared was to a great extent due to an increase in the consumption of opium. The subject having been brought to the notice of Government, steps have been taken, as stated in the House last Monday in reply to the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), to check the consumption of opium, which will, it is anticipated, involve a sacrifice of Revenue of about £50,000 a-year. The increased consumption of spirits in Bengal and British Burmah is attributed, in a great measute, to a general advancement in prosperity; it is also to some extent due to the adoption of the out-still system, whereby a weaker and less injurious spirit is provided in place of the stronger liquor produced at the Sudder distilleries. It is impossible to estimate to what extent there has been an increased consumption of spirits, as the increase in the number of out-stills in Bengal is known to have checked illicit distillation, and the people now drink what has paid Excise instead of illicit spirit; the out-still liquor has also in some measure displaced deleterious drugs. The Commissioners of Divisions generally concurred in opinion that there has been no increase in drunkenness in consequence of the out-still system, which system, while providing for the wants of the people in a legitimate manner, has been the means of bringing in an increase of Revenue to the State. The number of shops in Bengal under the Sudder distillery system has decreased from 1,938 to 902; while those under the out-still system have risen from 3,911 to 4,981. There would, therefore, appear to have been a net increase in the number of shops of 34 in 1879–80, as compared with 1878–9. It is, however, not possible to make any accurate comparison of the number of shops in each of these two years, as the out-still system was not introduced or extended uniformly, and the Returns from some districts accordingly show shops which were only open for a part of either year. With regard to the concluding part of this Question, there is no evidence of repeated complaints having been addressed to the authorities against the proceedings of the Revenue authorities. The Rev. Thomas Evans, of Monghyr, in a letter of the 28th of June, 1880, drew the attention of the Governor General to what he considered to be the ill effects of the out-still system in en- couraging drunkenness; but on investigation his statements were considered by the collector of Monghyr to have been "entirely unfounded." Complaints have also been made that the establishment of spirit-shops in the vicinity of tea-gardens in Assam and Darjeeling has led to increased drunkenness among the Coolies employed. These have engaged the attention of Government; and the Government of India, in a recent letter on the subject, stated that while on the one hand they were far from wishing to encourage drinking for the sake of Revenue, on the other hand they could not tolerate the illicit manufacture of spirit, and they were, therefore, constrained to provide for its legal sale wherever a demand was shown to have sprung up for it. Nothing is known of instructions having been issued to the administrative officials throughout the various collectorates and sub-collectorates to ascertain in what districts Government drink-shops can be opened with the greatest profit to the Revenue, and it seems highly improbable that any such instructions should have been issued.