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Should State Dictate Drinking Lifestyle?
By John B. Monteiro
Nothing in Nature’s sober found,
But an eternal Health goes round.
Fill up the Bowls then, fill it high –
Fill all the Glasses there; for why
Should every Creature Drink but I?
Why, Man of Morals, tell me why?
Abraham Cowley, English poet (1618-1667).
People have questioned down the centuries those who preach temperance and control the lifestyle of others. Now the state arrogates to itself the right to control and regulate the drinking lifestyle of the citizens in its misplaced belief that it knows best how its adult citizens should behave. The latest example comes from Maharastra in the form of new laws and rules, as detailed by Sandeep Ashar in The Times of India, as excerpted below:
If you are below 25 you will not be allowed to drink hard liquor anywhere in the state. Fresh restrictions have been imposed on liquor consumption. The legal drinking age for rum, gin, whisky and country-made liquor has been fixed at 25 years. This decision has been taken during state cabinet meeting on June 1, 2011. The legal drinking age for these hard drinks was 21 years previously. The legal drinking age for the consumption of mild beer has similarly been fixed at 21 years. The provisions are part of the government’s new de-addiction policy, which was cleared by the cabinet of ministers.
The new policy also includes provisions that allow sale of only two liquor bottles (of 750 ml) a week to one permit holder. Penal action has been proposed for violators. Citizens will also be required to take permission from the excise or police officials for serving alcohol during public functions, including birthdays and marriage parties.
Permission from the excise department or local police is now mandatory before one serves liquor at public functions. Action would be taken against those flouting this norm, said Sachin Ahir, minister of state, social justice department, which formulated the policy. The local police station and excise officials will also have power to revoke the drinking permit and initiate criminal action against someone creating a nuisance after getting drunk at a public function.
The policy also empowers a district collector to declare three additional dry days on “special” occasions apart from the nine state-wise dry days. While the state excise department has claimed that most of the provisions, including the revised drinking age limits, had already been incorporated in the Act, Shivajirao Moghe, minister, social justice department, said that the new policy would aim to enforce these.
The department had initially had planned to increase the drinking age to 30 years throughout the state (the 30 years norm is already in place in Wardha). This plan was dropped following objections raised by other cabinet ministers and the excise department. A plan to stop issuance of new permits for liquor shops was also shelved following objections raised by other departments. The department had also proposed that politicians engaged in selling of alcohol will not be permitted to contest elections, along with their family members. Even this was dropped following objections raised by cabinet ministers.
Moghe said that the 52-point policy was aimed at “prohibiting sale of illicit liquor and regulating sale of legal brands.” It has been decides that if 25% voters or 25% female voters (the earlier norm was 35%) from a ward or gram sabha apply for closure of a liquor shop, the collector will be required to call a ballot. If 50% of the voters or female voters vote against the liquor shop, it will be relocated.
Externment action will be taken against those found distributing illicit liquor. A NGO will be formed in all districts to coordinate de-addiction activity. Police officials found going soft on illicit liquor shops will be acted against. Few ministers also said that imposing new restriction on liquor consumption will affect excise revenue. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said: “It is contentious issue with different opinions. The policy is to attempt to encourage de-addiction activity. Government is open to discussion.” The policy is silent on what action would be taken against those found consuming liquor without permits.
Commenting on the subject, Times noted: “The government’s decision is both arbitrary and out of touch with the times. When any Indian can get a voter’s ID or driving licence at 18, raising the legal drinking age from 21 to 25 is illogical. Moreover, how it will be implemented is unclear.” The New Indian Express said editorially: “In the case of the ill-advised law on drinking, the near impossibility of its implementation is obvious since it is not easy to make out whether a young person is below 25 if he insists that he is not. Besides, it is likely to encourage drinking at home which has its pros and cons. Law of this nature should be uniform across the country so that ruling parties do not score petty political points.”
There are other issues here such as promoting bootleggers, kickbacks, bribes, protection and blackmail money – but have to be skipped for lack of space and for detailed treatment separately.
The subject is open to many views. What are yours? Over to you.