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Posted: Wednesday, 25 August 2021 09:37

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Delhi Govt. Defends Lower Drinking Age in High Court

Aug 25: Perhaps for the first time since Delhi Excise Policy was formulated, the government has taken the stand always advocated by delWine that if the voting age can be lowered to 18, why should the drinking age not be 18 years too, after first reducing it to 21. Subhash Arora defends the stand taken by the AAP government in the Hon’ble Delhi High Court where a petition is being heard against lowering the drinking age from 25 to 21 years

The petition seeks to restrain the Delhi government from giving effect to the new Excise Policy 2021-22 which reduced the age of consuming alcohol from 25 to 21 years until a robust age verification mechanism is put in place, according to the Report by HT.

The Delhi Government was one of only six states/ UTs that had pegged the benchmark at 25 years. With the UP and Haryana governments reducing the legal drinking age to 21 in recent years, the AAP government had been obliged to reduce the legal age to 21 in the current Excise Policy of 2021-2022, based on the recommendations of the Expert Committee formed in September last year.

Defending the stand taken by the Delhi Government, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the senior advocate told the Hon’ble Delhi High Court that when the age of voting in the country is 18 years, seeking restrictions on the legal age for drinking is like living in an ivory tower. “Nobody in the right mind supports drunken driving. Most states around Delhi have 18 as the legal drinking age. This does not mean that if you permit people above 18, you will allow drunken driving.  There are very strict laws to check drunken driving. Even a 50-year-old person is not allowed to drink and drive according to the law.” He also contended that this was an attempt to stall the policy under one pretext or the other.

His submissions were made before a bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh during hearing on a plea that sought a robust mechanism for mandatory age check at liquor shops, bars and restaurants serving alcohol with government documents such as the Aadhaar card or the voter ID card in place. The petition wants the High Court to restrain the Delhi government from lowering the legal age in this interim period.

The Delhi High Court has sought response of the Delhi government on the plea to put in place a robust mechanism for mandatory age check at liquor shops and bars with government identity cards. The matter has been listed for further hearing on September 17.

Announcing the new legal drinking age in March 2021, Deputy CM Manish Sisodia had categorically said that the government would introduce the system of age-gating in the city wherein persons below 21 years would not be allowed to enter any restaurant, pub or club that serves liquor by themselves.

The PIL also pleads that the government be restrained from giving effect to the recent amendment which permits the door step delivery of liquor until a robust age verification mechanism is instituted even for door delivery, according to the PTI Report published by Outlook India.

Interestingly, adults at the age of 18 are openly allowed to buy cigarettes even though they are decidedly more harmful to the health of the smokers. Even second hand smoking has been known to cause cancer and laws have been in place to ban smoking at public places.

The NGO claims that none of the liquor-selling places maintain records and no valid age proof is asked for when the alcohol is served. (This applies whether the age is under 18, 21 or even 21). The Court might in its wisdom decide to have the government install a robust system requested by the petitioner to check the age. In developed countries like the US, it is mandatory to check the serving of liquor to the under-age customers through IDs which they must carry at all times. The license of an establishment can be instantaneously cancelled if violations are found in surprise checks, fake IDs notwithstanding.

DelWine has always supported the drinking age to be reduced to 18 in 2 steps- first to 21 and then to 18. Unfortunately, it is not feasible to differentiate between low alcohol products like beer and wine, but they should be allowed to be imbibed in the residence in the presence of the parents at the age of 16. One needs to appreciate that till that age, the body is undergoing growth for which alcohol is harmful and ought to be avoided. The government should also take steps about educating masses about the ill effects of alcohol at all ages.   

Subhash Arora

 

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