Dec 30: Bollywood actor Armaan Kohli who hit the headlines due to his arrest by the Excise Police on December 20th for possessing 41 bottles of Scotch Whiskey- beyond the permissible limit at his residence in Mumbai, secured bail but has raised questions in the minds of people in Delhi whether the state laws to require a license to store liquor beyond a level have any logic when stocked for self consumption with friends in the house
The penalties for stocking wine and alcohol are rather heavy and different in every state as are the limits for storage without license. In national capital Delhi, for instance penalty is a minimum of not less than 6 months, which may extend to a year. Additionally there is a fine of not less than Rs. 50,000 ($700) and a maximum of Rs. 100,000. In U.P. the imprisonment can extend up to 2 years! Ditto for Haryana.
Under section 65 of the Delhi Excise Act 2009, an Excise department has the power to search and seize and even arrest the person found with illegal possession. However, the raids are carried out only on a tip-off and that too through the police, says the Report. Police is also authorised to conduct a raid on their own. A senior official of the Delhi Police says these raids are only on tip-offs and are carried along with excise officials accompanying.
Another official concedes this is an obsolete Excise rule which is rarely implemented. Neither the police not the Excise officials go around conducting such raids but if someone has an animosity and complains to the police or Excise, they have to take an action. There have been instances where some very important persons have been arrested in Delhi on the weekends where bail which is normally given instantly, when the otherwise powerful person had to be in the cooler for a couple of days.
Illogical and arbitrary rule
The situation is nicely summed up by a High Court lawyer fully in the know of rules. He says, ‘the Excise Policy is for the benefit of public and is to prevent illegal sale and possession of liquor and tax evasion. But as it is a State subject, states have arbitrarily and unreasonable manner fixed the amount and specification of liquor to be possessed by an individual and there is a huge gap between specifications of different states which is quite illogical.’
One obvious reason why such draconian laws have been framed is to avoid illegal business carried out from residence. It is not difficult to see some unscrupulous businessmen use residential property to stock alcohol illegally and operate it like a warehouse.
However, since the States have a Constitutional right and privilege they can use it as a tool of power and harassment. In April 2016, when Bihar declared prohibition, no liquor was allowed to be stored in the house-not even a bottle. A senior civil service office’s house was raided and he was arrested because one bottle of Scotch was reportedly found in his possession. A clear case of harassment, animosity and political vendetta!?
There is yet another dilemma people face. They might want to take a license for life if they are regular drinkers of wine and alcohol. After all, today there are several collectors of fine whiskies and single malts. By nature, fine wines take years to age and need to be cellared properly before they can be opened and I am not even talking about collectors who store them for decades. The cost of one bottle of wine or whisky is far more than the life-time license fee of Rs. 20,000 for 5 years in Delhi or life-time in Haryana. But people feel that by applying for the storage license they are exposing themselves and be marked for ever in the excise records and may be raided at will (despite the assurances that the excise would not raid unless there is a complaint by the inspectors and avoid taking any license.
One day permits
The same holds true for one-day permits which are required for hosting a party in the house where liquor is served, for Rs. 5000 (or Rs. 15000 for banquets) in Delhi; Haryana charges Rs. 500 and UP bites Rs. 4000 into your purse for a non-commercial private party. Once you get the license, you are marked.
For instance, I know of at least one such farm party where a law-abiding citizen applied for the license and paid Rs. 15,000. The party was raided by the excise officials who found a couple of bottles the presence of which could not be explained (they could have been gifted or purchased from the duty free shop or even acquired from the local friendly bootlegger). The officials did not budge till they received the demanded amount to avoid arrest and prosecution. They had the cheek to tell the host they came to know of the party from the record and he had made mistake in getting the license. He would have saved money by not taking the license and if ‘caught’ he could have paid that money to the inspectors who keep sniffing such parties.
Armaan Kohli has a point when he says he and his 9 friends who had accompanied him from Dubai had bought 2 bottles of Scotch each for a new-year’s party at his house. He also says he did not know about the law about storage ceiling without license. Ignorance of law is not an acceptable excuse. But his claim that someone was’ after his life’, makes sense as validated even by the excise and police officers general statement.
It’s best to know the local excise laws in your State-particularly you must check if the limit is for an individual or household and follow it diligently and keeping a receipt and record of all your purchases to avoid the harassment.
For our Article about Storage Laws in different States in India, please read:
Guide to Storing Alcohol in Homes in India
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