Insights into Editorial: Ever more draconian
Recently, the Patna High Court struck down as unconstitutional Bihar’s amendments to its 1915 Excise Act that prohibited the sale or possession of alcohol.
- The judgment argued that even laws that sought justification in the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution had to be reasonable and must respect fundamental rights.
- In addition, the court said, the punishments prescribed by the law were “quite unreasonable and draconian and cannot be justified in a civilised society.
How has the government countered this?
In response to this, the Bihar government has come out with a new and more stringent liquor-ban law with provisions such as arrest of all adults in the family if anyone consumes or stores alcohol.
- The government has notified the Bihar prohibition and excise act, 2016, to ensure that the ban on sale and consumption of alcohol, including Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL), continues in Bihar.
- Under the new law, those flouting the ban face up to 10 years in jail, a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh and there is also a provision to confiscate the house or premises where liquor is stored or drunk. Though in a rare case, it also prescribes death penalty if people die after consuming hooch.
- Also, in a separate action, the government will appeal in the Supreme Court against the strike-down in the high court.
- Alcohol is a subject in the State list under the seventh schedule of the Indian Constitution.
- Article 47 of the Directive Principle in the Constitution of India states that “The state shall undertake rules to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”
Ban on alcohol consumption:
Why it is good?
- Prohibition of alcohol limits and/or prevents alcohol addiction. This particular addiction can easily ruin people’s lives, including their jobs, their friends, their families, and obviously themselves too.
- Alcohol, especially in large quantities, can damage people’s kidneys and livers, and can eventually lead to death.
- Some religions (such as Islam, Mormonism, and some Pentecostal Christians) expressly forbids the consumption of alcohol.
- Some argue that there is a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and an increase in crime. Violent crimes, assault, and disorderly conduct are most common with persons who are intoxicated.
- Prohibition reduces the causalities and damages through drunk driving.
- Alcohol can be a very expensive habit.
Why it is not so good?
- There are serious doubts about the governments’ political will and administrative ability to prevent total sale and consumption of liquor.
- Ban may also lead to smuggling of illicit liquor and production of spurious liquor.
- It also spawns massive corruption. Prohibition may not automatically result in wise and healthy spending patterns.
- Blanket bans could adversely affect tourism, hospitality and other businesses, besides being an unfair intrusion into personal choices of a large section of people who can afford liquor and consume moderately.
- Alcohol addiction is considered a victimless crime, since it primarily affects the alcoholics. While it does affect the people around alcoholics, it does not directly affect them. People can always keep their distance from or leave alcoholics, if they choose.
- Criminal organizations will mostly profit from prohibition and, that in return, will promote other illegal activities.
- In most cultures and religions, social drinking is an acceptable practice.
- Also, people should have the freedom of choice to decide to drink alcohol or not, as long as that freedom does not infringe on the freedoms of other people. Therefore, a law prohibiting alcohol would remove the freedom of choice.
How will this affect the state exchequer?
The sale of alcohol contributes to the economy of the state through the tax directly and through the tourism, indirectly. The State Excise in India is mainly imposed on the sale of liquor, which is commonly known as Liquor tax. The states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab earn a large portion of their revenue from the State Excise. Because of the ban in consumption of alcohol in dry states, they are regarded as a poor contributor.
What can be done to discourage alcohol consumption?
- Enforce a minimum price for alcohol.
- Raise the legal drinking age.
- Stop distribution of new licenses.
- Ban marketing of alcohol.
While total prohibition may be a laudable objective and one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, it is doubtful whether this will bring down consumption. In a non-permissive society, it may only result in converting drinking into a covert activity, a phenomenon requiring policing and also bringing corruption in its wake. It is evident that the problem is complex and there can be no easy solutions, especially one that fits all. Therefore, addiction should be addressed at two levels: temperance campaigns to promote moderate consumption and opening of de-addiction centres to help those suffering from addiction. Just a blanket ban will not work.