TIME FOR ACTION IN INDIA’s ALCOHOL LAWS
Authored By: Harneet Singh
Name Of The University: Presidency University, Bengaluru
Course: V Year B.A. Ll.B (Hons.)
Alcohol is a subject covered under State List Entry 51 in Schedule 7 of the Indian Constitution. In the paper, the author focuses on the challenges confronting governments and citizens following the prohibition and usage of alcohol in the states. Some governments follow Mahatma Gandhi's ideals and have banned alcohol, which has been a problem in recent years. The article explains why the subject of alcohol should be included in the Union List and why the Centre should have the authority to enact uniform alcohol regulations. Since there are standard rules for the right to vote, the right to drive, and other rights that eliminate misunderstanding and discrimination among Indian citizens, there should be uniform alcohol regulations that do not infringe fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The author also discusses in the article statistics from national newspapers and journals, as well as comments from the Indian judiciary on the various alcohol laws in India. The government which was formed in 2015 called for a ban from 1 April, 2016 and was declared total ban on 5 April, 2016 with an objective of end of domestic violence against women in Bihar likewise, the government of Gujarat continues to practice complete prohibition of production, sale and consumption of alcohol since 1950. The total prohibition of alcohol created scarcity, which did not reduce demand, and when the government restricts its trade and consumption, it is gratified by a boom in the filthy business of smuggling and bootlegging. Alcohol prohibition has had a negative impact on the state government, as it has resulted in an annual tax revenue of around Rs. 4000-5000 crores. Only bootleggers will benefit from the money. Similarly, alcohol is being smuggled out of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and, more crucially, Nepal.
Because of the prohibition, the excise taxes on other items on the state list would be raised if the state was unable to produce revenue from the alcohol and this would also affect on the citizens in the state. The state produces a substantial amount of revenue from alcohol and as per the reports of World Health Organisation, the demand of alcohol has been rising and has become an essential element for tourists as well.
The state has the authority to make laws, and as a result, the state(s) has decided to restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages. The states create income, and a portion of that revenue is provided to the centre; but, due to the ban, the states would normally give less revenue to the centre. As a result, the Central Government is unable to implement national-level development in the states. As a result, it is vital that alcohol be included on the list of union and that the centre have entire powers towards the uniformity of law that would benefit the beneficiaries while also not violating the federal structure of the government. As per the reports of Hindustan Times, Bihar government pursued a liberal liquor policy, allowing opening of 6000 shops (both IMFL and country liquor) leading to revenue rising from Rs 319 crores in 2014-2015 to Rs 3605 crores in 2015-2016. With Bihar having prohibited liquor, Bihar had ‘nil’ revenue from liquor. For example, in states where alcohol is prohibited, the price of alcohol in hotels is very high, whereas a defence person can get alcohol from their respective defence canteen via CSD and no tax is required, so the person will not consider buying or consuming alcohol from a hotel and will instead get it from a defence person. It is against the law to resale any canteen item to a civilian. It is hard to restrict someone in this era of diversification, and the individual will discover an alternate channel to obtain the items that he will certainly slant and become dependent on later. As a result of the state's ban of alcohol, bootlegging occurs, and thereby, the centre should have sole authority over alcohol. As per the National Family Health Survey, under 33% of all men and 2% of women consume alcohol. More disconcerting is the fact that among drinkers in India, per capita consumption of alcohol is among the highest in the world.
Another aspect of Bihar's prohibition policy is the exception granted to desi liquor - toddy – in order to please certain castes and political parties. This significantly diminishes Bihar's moralistic justification for prohibition. Kerala's prohibition policy, is an obvious breach of the equality principle. The exception granted to five-star hotels is an obvious breach of democracies and equality before the law's core principles.
The state has also witnessed the rise of the illicit market. A significant damage to the state's major source of revenue – tourism – has already prompted calls for a reconsideration of Kerala's non-egalitarian prohibition policy.
Because the Bihar government's objective was to reduce crime in the state, particularly domestic violence against women, the Supreme Court of India had asked the state whether it had conducted any research prior to enacting the law and whether it had established a judicial infrastructure adequate to handle the flood of litigation. The matter emerged when it was discovered that there has been no decrease in crime rates and, in fact, a rise in crime, while 16 of the 26 judges in the Patna High Court are preoccupied with litigation connected to the 2016 liquor prohibition law. This last point demonstrates that the prohibition of alcohol has had no effect on Bihar's crime rate. Also, there are many other narcotics, such as ganja, cocaine, and so on, that may and are used for consumption and are equally and more deadly, as well as being responsible for domestic violence against women and other crimes. Such a limitation should be lifted, and the authorities should be delegated to the centre in order to avoid abuse of power by the state.
It is enshrined in the Constitution of India with a unique feature which is a large part of human rights, known as Fundamental Rights. The Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution constitute the Magna Carta of individual liberty and human rights. The uniformity of alcohol laws in India should be considered because the laws that every state has of its own is so of biased and discrimination in nature. Since there is a uniformity in the legal drinking age in all other countries, India should also follow the idea of uniformity of alcohol laws. It is very much pertinent and highlighted point that the laws which India has of alcohol are discriminated because it directly mentions that a person who is a major of one state is more responsible than a major of another state. This clearly violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which mentions about equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws. The subjects such as right to vote, right to drive, right to marriage etc. have uniformity in age, then the right to drinking should also have uniform age all over the country. John Stuart Mill said that, “unless the action is self- regarding, minimum laws should be implemented on the subject and in case of alcohol for human consumption; it is a self-regarding subject unless it hinders the public morality or causes any other person a trouble.”
Eventually, after seeing the well-functioning of laws related to driving and voting that works on the principle of uniform drinking age, there will be no harm to the nation if alcohol consumption also applies the uniformity principle in the legal drinking age. The law is the same for all and calls for a fair and just decision universal throughout the country. The Supreme Court established the right to privacy as a basic right contained in Article 21 of the Constitution in the landmark case K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India. Many contend that the constitutionally given right to privacy includes the freedom to drink alcoholic beverages. Because an individual's free choice is an important component of privacy, decisions about what he/she eats are covered by Article 21's basic right.
It is also very much pertinent to consider that the prohibition of sale of alcohol in Bihar and Gujarat is violation of Article 19 (1) (g) which guarantees freedom of trade and also, Article 301 which is freedom of trade, commerce and intercourse. Every individual citizen owns the right to practice any profession or occupation which he/she deems fit. Gandhian Ideologue states banned the complete use of alcohol for human consumption purpose in the light of Article 47(9) but these states cannot completely negate the usefulness of alcohol on the grounds of morality since alcohol is an eminent source of revenue generation.
The use of a uniform drinking age will instantly reduce black marketing, bootlegging, and smuggling of liquor since the providers of smuggled items will not gain. Proper education must be provided in schools so that children are aware of the detrimental effects of alcohol intake. Since prohibition has had no effect, and even after the laws are enacted in the state, the crime rate against women and children who consume alcohol has not decreased. As a nation, it is the obligation of the nation to safeguard and protect its citizens, and it is the necessity of the hour for the centre to take up the measures to work on new and uniform alcohol laws throughout the country.
Uniformity In Alcohol Laws In India: Call Of The Hour
There are few states in India that are considered to be as “DRY STATES” as there is a prohibition of alcohol. They are as follows:
Gujarat: Since 1960, the sale and use of alcoholic beverages has been prohibited throughout the state. Non-residents of Gujarat are the only ones who can apply for limited liquor permits.
Bihar: On April 4, 2016, the state enacted a total prohibition on alcohol.
Nagaland: Since 1989, the sale and use of alcoholic beverages has been prohibited.
Manipur: Since 2002, the state has followed a partial ban on alcohol.
Lakshadweep: Liquor consumption is only authorised on the island of Bangaram.
According to Article 47 of the Constitution, the State shall make every effort to prohibiting intoxicating alcohol and drugs that are harmful to one's health. The government has established a food regulator to ensure food safety. Likewise with medications. Depending on the quantity and frequency of use, drugs can be useful or harmful. The same is true for food. In the author's opinion, it is urgent to repeal Article 47, which is illogical and nonsensical, in addition to being unconstitutional and violative of the fundamental right to liberty. Such an illiberal rule should not be included in modern India's basic legislation. The court overturned Nitish Kumar's policy on grounds of unsound legal methods and a lack of coherence with the policy's formal award of licences for the manufacturing and sale of Indian-made foreign liquor in the state. While one judge ruled that the restriction infringed the fundamental right to liberty and the derived right to privacy protected by the Constitution, another ruled that it did not. The prohibition of alcohol has neither regulated or lowered the crime rate against women and children in the states, nor has it eliminated the black market for alcohol or the illicit transit of alcohol from one state to another. Taking today's state as an example, with varying alcohol rates in different states, individuals from Gurgaon would drive to Delhi to buy alcohol since it is cheaper, and as a result, residents would buy a bigger number of bottles and sell them at a lower price than the price in their own state. This enhances the black market and illegal alcohol transportation from one state to another. The Uttar Pradesh government amended the Uttar Pradesh Excise Act, 1910, in 2017 to reduce the import of liquor from other states. It is a non-bailable offence with a five-year imprisonment and a fine of Rs 5000 or ten times the money the state would have collected from the bottles, whichever is greater. Even though each state has its own set of regulations, residents strive to discover any loophole or unlawful technique to consume or sell alcohol in their own states, whether it is forbidden or not. In India, we preach about 'Unity in Diversity,' yet we also have alcohol consumption discrimination among inhabitants of various states. As a result, there shall be uniform alcohol laws in India to prevent or reduce the crime rate of alcohol, which includes illegal transit of alcohol from one state to another, uniform consumption age - as citizens avoid drinking from neighbouring states and also avoid driving while in consumption, tax revenue can be earned by each state.
The court stated in Khoday Distilleries v. The State of Karnataka that "prohibition is not the sole option to restrict and regulate use of intoxicating liquor." The Centre should have jurisdiction over better and more rigorous alcohol regulation. There will be enough education on the detrimental effects of alcohol consumption. Similarly, it is stated on the packages of cigarettes that smoking is harmful to health; similarly, it shall be at the option of the people to allow them to use alcohol or not, since it is their right and liberty. According to the author, 21 years of age is a standard drinking age because the mid-20s and older are widely considered as later maturity. Alcohol on the state list should be shifted to the Union list since there is an effective necessity of the centre in this issue. Most significantly, legislators must not fail to create a regulatory policy, or otherwise the people of India would undoubtedly perish.