PATNA, India – The Indian state of Bihar completely banned the sale of alcohol in a surprise move Tuesday, including liquor at bars and hotels.
The state government had announced an end to sales of locally brewed liquor last week and said a complete ban would be phased over six months.
However Nitish Kumar, the state's top elected official, said the ban on local liquor was so popular that the government was ready to bar all sales of alcohol immediately. He said that feedback from across the state showed that the government's move had widespread support.
"I feel this is the right time for social change in Bihar," Kumar told reporters.
But the government's sudden move has surprised store and bar owners.
"We were taken totally by surprise," said Shankar Jha, the owner of the Liquid Bar in state capital Patna.
"We are now awaiting instructions from the state excise department about how we should deal with our stocks," Jha said, adding that his bar would be forced to fire the staff.
Liquor store saleman Nitish Pandey was also left with unsold stock and no clear order what to do with it.
The move is expected to cost the state government about $600 million in revenues from taxes on alcohol sales.
Liquor manufacturers can continue making their products as long as they are sold in other parts of the country.
Three other states have complete alcohol bans, Gujarat, Nagaland and Manipur. However bootleggers do brisk business in all Indian states with prohibition laws.
Political analyst Ravi Ranjan Sinha said that Bihar's move to ban all alcohol sales was sudden and poorly thought out.
"We don't know how the state will make up for the loss in revenue," he said, adding that smuggling of alcohol from nearby states would become rampant.
Prohibition was one of Kumar's main campaign promises to women voters in state elections last year.