The Punjab Excise Act, 1914 had been extended to the national capital when it was formed and was applicable till last week; Delhi had the status of a city at the time but now it has become a State, with a few limitations.
The new law has been enacted to overcome the problem of spurious and adulterated liquor, its smuggling and also its consumption in public places according to the Delhi Finance Minister, Mr. A K Walia. The fine for consumption of liquor in public places goes up to Rs 5,000 from the present Rs 200, and is doubled if the person creates a nuisance. Persons allowing drunkenness on the premises of liquor establishments can be fined up to Rs 50,000.
Spurious liquor manufacturing will also be handled more strictly with the powers given to the excise department. The distance requirement of the liquor shops being 75 meters from schools and religious places has now been increased to 100 meters.
A commendable part of the Act is death sentence or life imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 1 million in case of any death caused by the mixing of toxic substances with liquor. The fine is Rs. 0.5 million with a jail term of six years if the action causes grievous hurt.
In case of offences relating to rendering denatured spirit fit for human consumption, and for sale and marketing of hooch, the earlier provision of imprisonment up to one year and fine up to Rs 1,000 has been justifiably enhanced to a minimum jail term of two years-extending up to five and a fine of Rs 2,00,0000.
Similarly, in case of unlawful import, export, manufacture, transport, possession and sale, the earlier Act called for imprisonment up to three years and fine up to Rs 2,000. The new Act makes a the imprisonment more flexible- between six months and three years but fines up to Rs 100,000 .
The previous policy did not allow women to be bar tenders, an understandable rule if one pictures the lifestyle 100 years ago. But the ruling has now come not from the modern thinking of the government but a court case where the High Court decided that it was women’s constitutional right to work as a bartender; it was reported at the time in delWine.
The biggest irritant is the hypocrisy displayed by the government by not changing the minimum age of 25 years. According to Indian laws, the voting age has been reduced to 18 years for almost a decade. Women can even marry and raise kids at that age (men must be 21 to get married) but officially they cannot drink alcohol. Perhaps, a group of students between the age of 18 and 25 should go to the court and seek justice-logic is already in their favour; so is the common practice.
Apparently, there are no changes with respect to wine. DelWine will keep our readers abreast with any specific changes.
DelWine recommends an occasional glass of two of wine with the family at dinner from the age of 16. As a first step, the law can be made to allow beer and wine for those adults who are younger than 25, but that may be hard to come by until the government is really serious about the issue and menace of alcohol. By allowing beer and wine at that age, the government may actually be encouraging the use of less alcohol through less consumption of liquor.