It has been questioned before the Gujarat High Court which bans liquor consumption and selling.
The Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949, an act that bans liquor, was enacted just a couple of months after the assassination of Gandhi. It’s been effective in Gujarat since 1960 when the state was formally established. However, the execution is limited only to papers by all circumstantial confirmation over the years. Despite having a separate state prohibition department, an illegal market of liquor has always been active across Gujarat, perhaps due to the profound nexus between the local department personnel and bootleggers, which contributed to the increase in the number of gangsters and mafias. And, like every lucrative business, politicians of all hues are involved in it too. This makes it possible for anyone to shop for any kind of liquor at any given time, but only at inflated rates in comparison with the prices in neighboring states. Also, it’s a disenchanting incontrovertible fact that many residents of Gujarat need to travel outside the state’s boundaries for the consumption of alcohol of their choice. Union territory Daman & Diu has been the favorite destination for several Gujaratis for legal consumption of alcohol.
The background of the Act
Bombay Abkari Act, 1878: the primary hint at the prohibition of liquor was through the Bombay Abkari Act, 1878 (in the Province of Bombay). This Act addressed the levying of duties on intoxicants, among other things, and aspects of prohibition via amendments made in 1939 and 1947. Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949: there have been “many lacunae” within the Bombay Abkari Act, 1878, from the purpose of view of the government’s decision to enforce prohibition. This led to the birth of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949. The Supreme Court upheld the Act broadly barring a couple of sections in 1951 within the judgment of the State of Bombay and another versus FN Balsara. However, the Bombay Abkari Act, 1878 has many loopholes, which have been raised by various legal experts. The government tried to remove the defects and enforce the policy of total prohibition which resulted in the birth of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949.
The recent development
The Gujarat Prohibition Act, 1949 has been challenged before the Gujarat Supreme Court, quite seven decades after it came into effect because of the Bombay Prohibition Act. The said Act prohibits manufacturing, selling, and consumption of liquor in Gujarat. An equivalent has been dragged to court on grounds of violation of the ‘right to privacy.
In 2020, two civil applications were filed supporting the state within the continued imposition of the prohibition law. The primary was by 81-year-old Prakash Navinchandra Shah, a retired lecturer of politics who is now working as an honorary director at Acharya Kriplani Center at Gujarat Vidyapith and also working as chairman of People’s Union for Civil Liberty, Gujarat, and editor of Nirikshak, a fortnightly publication. The second applicant during this application is Neeta Mahadevbhai Vidrohi, a social activist and secretary of Gujarat Lok Samiti. Vidrohi has stated that she had “actively participated in the closing of liquor selling shops at the border area between Rajasthan and Gujarat way back within the 1980s”.
The Gujarat Prohibition Act, 1949:
Following the reorganization of Bombay province into the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960, there was continued amendment and liberalization within the state of Maharashtra, especially in 1963. Gujarat adopted the prohibition policy in 1960 and subsequently chose to enforce it with greater rigidity, but also made processes easier for foreign tourists and visitors to urge liquor permits. In 2017, the Gujarat Prohibition (Amendment) Act was passed with the provision of up to 10 years jail for manufacturing, purchase, sale, and transportation of liquor within the dry state. The Gujarat Prohibition Act was renamed in 2011. By the state’s own admission in affidavits before the Gujarat HC, the government found that the policy wasn’t working effectively and thus amendments were made through an ordinance in 2016. Within the statement of objects and reasons of this amendment, it had been stated that the government was “committed to the ideals and principles of Gandhi and firmly intends to eradicate the menace of drinking liquor.
Why has it been questioned in the court of law?
The right of privacy: Any invasion by the state in an individual’s right to choice of food and beverage amounts to an unreasonable restriction and destroys the individual’s decisional and bodily autonomy. Proper privacy has been held as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court in several judgments since 2017. It’s been especially highlighted while challenging sections concerning the grant of health permits and temporary permits to out-of-state tourists. The petitioner says that there are not any intelligible differences within the classes thus being created by the state on who gets to drink and who doesn’t and violates Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution. Tax revenues from alcohol are a serious part of any government’s revenues. These enable the government to finance several public welfare schemes. The absence of those revenues severely impacts the state’s ability to run public welfare programs. Bihar introduced complete prohibition in April 2016. While it certainly has led to a discount in alcohol consumption, the related social, economic, and administrative costs are far too large to justify gains. Prohibition crippled the judicial administration. Today, the Indian Made Foreign Liquors (IMFL) industry contributes over 1 lakh crore in taxes per annum. It supports the livelihood of 35 lakh farming families and provides direct and indirect employment to lakhs of workers employed within the industry.
What the state has presented in the court?
The state in its defense has said that their studies have shown that alcohol tends to aggravate the sense of violence when consumed. Most of the violent crimes against women and youngsters are committed behind closed doors. Challenging the law is an “attack on the constitutional obligation of the first duty of the State because the guardian of the population to guard the health and lives of its people”. An equivalent was advocated by Gandhi.
Alcohol maybe a subject within the State List under the seventh schedule of the Indian Constitution. The Directive Principle within the Constitution of India states that “The state shall undertake rules to cause the prohibition of the consumption apart from medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of medicine which are injurious to health”. Between issues like morality, prohibition, or freedom of choice, there also are factors like economy, jobs, etc. which can’t be ignored. What is required is an informed and constructive dialogue on the causes and effects. Policymakers should specialize in framing laws that encourage responsible behavior and compliance. The age should be made uniform across the country and nobody below that ought to be permitted to shop for alcohol. Tough laws should be made against drunken behavior publicly, violence under influence, and drinking and driving. While the government, in response to the petitioners’ challenge to the law, had filed an in-depth affidavit in 2019 dealing in merits of the contentions raised by the petitioners.