Liquor Policy of States

Liquor Policy of States

[op-ed snap] Country lifeop-ed snap


Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Social empowerment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Decsion to promote mahua and what it could mean for states that are thinking about liquor ban


Sale of Mahua

  1. As part of a remarkable push to market forest produce from the tribal belt of central India, the Tribal Affairs Ministry plans to bottle mahua from Chhattisgarh and mainstream its sale all over the country
  2. Other produce like amla and tamarind will also be incorporated into jams and candies, but these may not be immediately successful since they would have to do battle with established brands

Unique decision

  1. The decision to market mahua reverses the tide of history
  2. Country liquor was marginalised in colonial times in favour of a class of dodgy produce with a patently dodgy name — Indian Made Foreign Liquor

Support for tradition

  1. Mahua has persisted in subcultures across the country, rejoicing in the names of the fruits, like santra, from which these beverages are made
  2. Besides, recipes from times past linger in the collective memory of some old families and communities
  3. The central ministry has done the right thing by the people of Bastar, from where most of the mahua to be bottled will be sourced
  4. Indian companies have recently focused on premium products suitable for the international market
  5. Country liquors, professionally bottled, would add to the bouquet

Way Forward

  1. Bottled mahua is a unique product and its success is guaranteed
  2. Apart from offering Indians a healthier alternative to cheap IMFL, they could create a brand new segment in the export market
Liquor Policy of States

[op-ed snap] Traffickers, peddlers, mules or users?op-ed snap


Mains Paper 3: Internal Security | Linkages of organized crime with terrorism

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act)

Mains level: Punjab’s drug problem, its role in fuelling separatist movement and ways to resolve it


Punjab’s new drug law

  1. The Punjab government has recommended to the Union government the death penalty for first-time offenders convicted for drug trafficking and smuggling
  2. The assumption is that harsher measures can help deal with the State’s drug problem

NDPS act & its implementation

  1. The law on drugs is covered by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act)
  2. The Act’s primary objective is to deter drug trafficking
  3. It uses every trick in the book to achieve this: strict liability offences, mandatory minimum sentences, even the death penalty for certain repeat offences
  4. The law also provides a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for offences involving commercial quantities of drugs
  5.  Deterrence by harsh punishments has consistently failed
  6. In 2015, 41.7% of all prisoners in Punjab were in jail for various offences related to this law

Escape route provided in law

  1. An executive notification passed by the Department of Revenue in 2009 led to a major change in how commercial quantities under the Act were determined
  2. This notification assigns punishment based on the weight of the whole drug and not just pure content
  3. As a result, sentencing in pharmaceutical drug cases changed drastically across Punjab
  4. A case in Patiala where unauthorised possession of 20 bottles of cough syrup led to a 10-year prison sentence drives home this claim

Flaws in the investigation process

  1. The law also seeks deterrence through strict liability provisions. Under the law, proving possession alone is sufficient, the prosecution does not have to prove intent to lead to a conviction
  2. The police in Punjab follow a template charge-sheet format, just to prove possession
  3. They rarely examine the intent of the criminal act
  4. The Act is also blatantly unforgiving of anyone found in possession of any drug
  5. The way investigation is conducted right now, it is impossible to tell whether the person is a peddler or smuggler, or an addict feeding his habit

Why is act proving a deterrent?

  1. Section 27 of the Act makes consuming any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance a criminal offence
  2. Criminalising addiction stigmatises it, which automatically inhibits addicts from coming forward for treatment

Way Forward

  1. The Cabinet’s proposal to make the law even harsher may alleviate people’s concerns for the time being, but it will not yield the results the state, as well as its people so desperately, seek
  2. The state should consider decriminalising addiction and developing an effective treatment strategy by consulting experts, partner agencies and users, and allocate adequate resources
Liquor Policy of States

Bihar govt. enforces new prohibition lawSC Judgements

  1. Bihar Govt notified and enforced a new Prohibition law with more stringent provisions- Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016
  2. Recently, the Patna High Court had quashed the prohibition law in Bihar
  3. Govt also declared that it would appeal to the Supreme Court against the High Court judgment
  4. The law ensures complete ban on sale and consumption of liquor- both Indian Made Foreign Liquor and country-made— in the State with immediate effect
Liquor Policy of States

Bihar imposes total ban on alcohol

  1. News: The Bihar govt had banned sale and consumption of country-made liquor across the State from April 1 with provisions of even death penalty for those involved in trade of hooch
  2. Industry: The liquor companies and factories in the State can continue to manufacture, but cannot trade in it within the State
  3. Exemption: Army cantonment areas would be exempt as they regulate sale and consumption of alcohol in their own way
Liquor Policy of States

Bihar Assembly passes bill on partial ban on liquor

  1. News: Bihar passed a new Bill that incorporates some stringent measures against liquor consumption in the state
  2. Provisions: Those involved in the hooch tragedy will be awarded punishment up to capital punishment
  3. Importance: The govt has opened indoor and outdoor de-addiction centres in every district in the state to help people in getting rid of liquor habit
  4. The govt would create such an environment that people in urban areas would automatically quit liquor consumption
Liquor Policy of States

Apex court upholds curbs on serving liquor in Kerala

  1. SC has upheld the controversial ‘Liquor-Free Kerala’ policy restricting the serving of liquor to 5-star hotels in the State.
  2. The SC ruled that the State govts be given a free hand to curtail or ban public consumption of alcohol to protect public health and nutrition.
  3. The policy led to the closure of over 400 bars and restricted liquor availability to nearly 20 five-star hotels.
  4. SC said that consumption of tobacco as well as liquor is now undeniably deleterious to the health of humankind.
Liquor Policy of States

Good in principle, tough to practise – Ban on Liquorop-ed snap

  1. DPSP requires state to endeavour for prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs, due to the well-known ill-effects on standards of living and public health.
  2. Any ban on liquor sales will necessarily co-exist with a spurt in bootlegging and illicit distillation.
  3. As a policy, prohibition has met with little success anywhere in India, due to corruption within enforcement agencies.
  4. Even when it has helped bring down overall consumption, prohibition has led to loss of lives in hooch tragedies.
  5. Many of the government’s freebie schemes actually run on revenues from duties and taxes levied on liquor, prohibition leaving govt. exchequer empty.

Kerala’s Liquor Policy: What’s wrong with it?

Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the ‘Liquor-Free Kerala’ policy restricting the serving of liquor to five-star hotels in the State. The apex court ruled that the State governments be given a free hand to curtail or ban public consumption of alcohol to protect public health and nutrition.

Before we go into details, let’s see the time-line of Kerala’s Excise Policy

2007 – Kerala govt. started tightening its excise policy to make liquor less-freely available in the state, in the interest of public health. It started a policy where only those hotels that were accorded 3-star or more by Union Govt.’s Ministry of Culture will be given new bar licenses.

2011 – It further tightened the policy by denying licenses to any hotels that were accorded less than 4-star by Union Govt.’s Ministry of Culture. However, those hotels with existing licenses were accorded amnesty, i.e. they were allowed renewal of licenses even if the hotel’s rating was less than 4-star.

2014 – Only hotels classed as 5-star and above by Union Govt.’s Ministry of Culture, will be allowed to serve liquor.

What is Liquor-Free Kerala policy?

The policy seeks to prohibit the sale and service of alcohol in all public places, except bars and restaurants in five-star hotels. To be precise, only five star hotels are now allowed to serve hard liquor. <Something, which is often confused>

  • Other categories of hotels could supply only beer and wine.
  • Govt-run liquor shops are to be phased out at a rate of 10% a year over the next decade.
  • Toddy is exempt from the ban and the drink has long been part of Kerala’s culture.

Foreign tourists could be satisfied by beer and wine, while the domestic tourism sector will be the most affected as tourists from other states prefer hard liquor.

What is the need for bringing such a policy?

  • Kerala accounts for 14% of the country’s liquor consumption.
  • Even, the apex court said that it is well established that consumption of liquor is bad for health of humankind.
  • Alcoholism critically impact the household budgets of the poor & may lead to domestic violence.

DPSP also requires state to endeavour for prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs, due to the well-known ill-effects on standards of living and public health.

How this ban could impact Kerala’s economy?

  • Kerala earns about $ 3.8 billion/year from tourism, which is likely to be hit by the liquor ban. The state govt. has hiked excise duty on beer to 5% and that on liquor to 8% to offset revenue losses.
  • The job opportunities in the tourism sector will also be get affected because of this policy, as the industry provides one out of four jobs in the state.

Why there is so much criticism against prohibition?

  • Actually, the policy of prohibition does not encourage the people to quit the habit.
  • It leads to underground trade and creates a market for spurious liquor.
  • As a policy, prohibition has met with little success anywhere in India, due to corruption within enforcement agencies.
  • Even when it has helped bring down overall consumption, prohibition has led to loss of lives in hooch tragedies.

What is the argument for exempting five-star hotels & why is it criticized?

  • The State govt. has argued that it is in the interest of tourism.
  • However, the Supreme Court’s decision to exempt five-star hotel seems unreasonable and arbitrary.
  • The judgment strikes at the root of non-discriminatory treatment under the constitution.

Let’s analyse the court verdict vis-a-vis fundamental rights?

The case is known as The Kerala Bar Hotels Association vs State of Kerala.

The bar associations have argued that the liquor policy violates Art 19(1)(g) and Art 14.

Article 19(1)(g) – To practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

  • However, the liberty to freely carry on any trade or business is subject to reasonable restrictions that may be imposed by state in the interest of general public.
  • This argument fails, since Art 47 requires state to make an endeavour towards improving public health, including to bring about prohibition of the consumption of liquor.

Art 14 – The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

  • The new excise policy had made an unreasonable classification by separately categorizing hotel of 5-star or more and permitting these hotels to serve liquor in public.
  • Therefore, the policy violates Art 14 of constitution by treating persons on an equal standing unequally.

What could be the better policy alternative?

Experts argue that a better idea would be to engage non-state actors to step up the campaign for abstention.

Suggest some better policy alternatives or share some successful case-studies to curb the consumption of liquor.


Published with inputs from Pushpendra 

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