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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Tuesday, May 13 2008. 14:37

Delhi Government Chickens Out

The cabinet of Delhi government cabinet met yesterday to discuss the new Delhi Excise Bill 2007 and once again displayed its lack of will to take decisions which are rational but politically sensitive by maintaining status quo on the drinking age, during the current election year.

Rationalisation of the current absurd policy of 25 years as the minimum age for serving drinks in a public place to 21 years was more a wishful thinking than expectation by the Generation Next who loves to work hard and party hard and doesn't care about the absurd law, anyway.

The excise department, with an eye on the increase in excise revenues, had recommended the lowering of age to 21, but the cabinet decided to keep the issue first recommended in August 2007 by Dr. A.K.Walia, the state finance minister, on the back burner, in order to avoid the wrath of anti-alcohol lobby.

Supreme Court's decision last year to allow women to bartend, gave the government a reason to allow women as bartenders. But as the court was not specific on the age issue, they chose to keep it as drinking age. 'When drinking age is 25, it is natural that the age of women bartenders can't be less than that," Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit told reporters after the cabinet meeting. This aspect of the Act when formed is liked to be challenged for violation of the Supreme Court Judgment last December.

"There had been opposition from Cabinet members for reducing the age, nobody has accepted the age of 18. Hence, the age for drinking remains as 25," said state finance minister Dr A K Walia adding, "The cabinet felt youngsters should not be encouraged to drink."

There are strict provisions for anti-smuggling and bootlegging in the new Act, including auction of the vehicle in question, which should find acceptance with all law abiding citizens.

The new Excise legislation will come into force in the capital after it is approved by the Delhi Assembly. It will finally replace the antiquated Punjab Excise Act 1914, which has been applicable to Delhi as well. The Delhi Government has been working for sometime now to have an independent Excise Act for the capital. Delhi Excise Bill 2007 approved by the cabinet yesterday is the logical step to make the Act to be known as Delhi Excise Act 2007.

The Congress controlled government is weary of BJP (the main opposition party who is breathing down their neck to defeat them in the next election), has been under attack for its 'liberal' excise policy. All the seven ministers in the meeting felt it was too sensitive a subject and should better be left alone till the elections are over.

The Bill makes buying and selling of alcoholic products for people less than 21 years a criminal offence, implying that if one is between 21 and 25, one can trade but mustn't touch.

The bill seeks to simplify the complex regime by changing to only one ad-valorem duty. The wine importers have been dreading this 'simplification' as they believe that this would be a way of escalation of duties. The cabinet had already cleared a proposal in March to charge 25% excise duty on the declared MRP. This proposal was surprisingly kept in the cold storage as the new policy for 2008 commenced on April 1 this year.

As confirmed by several importers under anonymity, the department has been insisting for declaration of MRP at the time of registration of labels, making them feel like a sitting duck. Of course, the consumer and wine will be the ultimate losers.

In case one is still wondering about the permission to sell in the Super markets, one needs to wait for another year-for a proposal that has been fermenting for 2-3 years but never ready to be uncorked to the waiting connoisseurs- due to political expediencies. In the meantime, one has to drive down to Gurgaon to pick up their wine requirement, hopefully kept at a fair temperature in a super market.

Subhash Arora>

The absurdity of the law needs no explanation. In a country where you can get married at the age of 18, raise children at the age of 18, you are expected to wait till 25 to start drinking. This is one of the many factors contributing to what I have termed The Indian Paradox.

Indian Wine Academy does not wish to change its stand against excessive alcohol drinking. The amount of alcohol being imbibed by the 18-25 age groups is unhealthy, and dangerous. But the government cannot keep its eyes closed to the reality. It should promote drives to focus on ill-effects of excessive consumption rather than try to coerce the youth. The youth today are more responsive to reason and rational regulations- editor


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