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Uniformity In Legal Drinking Age In India: A Call Of The Hour

Alcohol consumption, legal drinking age in India, uniformity in legal drinking age in India has till date been a debatable and a hot issue in India. As per the recent report the per capita alcohol consumption in India has more than doubled from 2016-2020[1]. And among these over 88 percent of Indians aged under 25 purchase or consume alcoholic beverages despite the bans on alcohol in some states across the country[2]. As per the current alcohol laws in India every state has the freedom to decide their own laws. This has led to a lot of confusions in the mind of Indian citizens and a widespread diversification.

On one hand we talk about 'Unity In Diversity’ whereas on the other hand we are having discriminations among citizens of different states on consumption of alcohol. As per the current alcohol laws a person of 21 years of age can legally consume alcohol today in the State of Jharkhand, but if the same person tomorrow goes to Delhi or Bihar than there he is an illegal drinker.

Uniformity in legal drinking across the country is the call of the hour and is an essential factor to control the extending scope of discrimination and other negative traits of it. Ultimately alcohol has become a need rather than luxury and needs to dealt with utmost important.

First time drinking or tasting of alcoholic beverage is one of the most exciting part of a person. Alcohol is a drug that can be toxic and also addictive, the alcohol in drinks is called ethanol (ethyl alcohol) made when yeast ferments the sugars in grains, fruits and vegetables.[3] Everyone loves that adrenaline rush, the feeling of being mature enough to consume something which he has been looking elders consuming. But every government puts some restrictions on consumption of alcohol and one of the restrictions is of minimum age for consuming alcohol.

Alcohol consumption has always been a boiling issue in India. It has always been a debatable issue in India. One such debate among millennials have been the non-uniformity in the legal drinking age in India. The legal drinking age in India is different in different states. India is the only country in the world where the power to make the alcohol laws has been given to the states resulting in different different legal drinking age in different states.

While some countries favor a complete ban on the use of it for consumption purpose, other countries fix a certain age for alcohol consumption. There are legal purchase ages both on and off premises and also by the type of the beverage (beer, wine, and sprits)[4]. If we go by the definition of drinking age by the Merriam Webster[5] it says a age at which a person can legally buy and drink alcohol. India too has such restrictions imposed on purchasing and consuming alcohols. But the imposition in India is not the same in every Indian states.

We have a uniform legal age of marriage[6], uniform legal age of driving[7], uniform legal age to be vote[8] but we do not have a uniform legal drinking age. The Indian Constitution has under List 2(Entry 51 and 54) of the Seventh Schedule[9] has given the powers to the State authorities to modify and regulate alcohol laws in their country, thus resulting in an non uniform legal drinking age worldwide.

Also The Constitution of India under Article 4710 has empowered each state to bring out the prohibition of the consumption of intoxicating drinks and drugs. Which is why each State in India has their own laws of alcohol consumption and purchase. While some of the Indian States have age limit of 18, some has completely banned it and others have set a certain prohibition up to a certain age. This research paper will focus upon why there should be a uniform legal drinking age, why it is the call of the hour.

Current Alcohol Laws In India

The legal age of purchasing and consuming alcoholic beverages vary from state to state in India. In some states, the consumption of alcohol is totally prohibited and in some states, the legal age for consumption varies from 18 to 25. It is because of the subject of alcohol comes under the Entry 51 of State List of VII Schedule under the Constitution of India.[10] This gives freedom to all states for making their own laws for the current subject.

This has led to a widespread diversification resulting in different legal age in different states for liquor consumption.

Article 47(6) of the Indian Constitution[11]which was the result of Constitution assembly debates is a directive principle of state policy is supremely fundamental for the governance of the country and it gives the state the complete discretionary privilege of consumption of liquor as a beverage as it is inherently dangerous to human health.

State not only has the power to regulate consumption but it can also impose restrictions and limitations on the trade and business of liquor as a beverage.
A summary or the basic ideas of all the different alcohol laws of all the 29 states and also the 7 Union territories.[12]

Here is the list of states along with the drinking age limit:
  • Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal – 21 yrs
  • Chhattisgarh, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab – 25 yrs
  • Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Sikkim, Pondicherry – 18 yrs
  • Bihar – Drinking has been illegal since 4th April 2016
  • Gujarat – Illegal since 1960
  • Lakshadweep – Illegal
  • Maharashtra – 18 yrs for wine, 21 yrs for beer and 25 yrs for other alcoholic drinks.
  • Manipur – Illegal. partial prohibition since 2002
  • Mizoram – 21 yrs. A special case where ban on alcohol consumption had been lifted after seventeen years in 2014
  • Nagaland – Sale and consumption Illegal since 1989.[13]

The above list shows that the permitted legal drinking age varies from state to state, even the purchasing of alcohol and consumption of alcohol is also different. Each states has it’s own statutes or Acts or Legislation regulating liquor laws. These rules and regulations create confusions and results difficulty in implementing

the laws relating to the consumption of alcohol. Article 47 of The Constitution of India[14] is one of the Directive Principles of State Policy which is fundamental in the governance of the country and the State has the power to completely prohibit the manufacture, sale, possession, distribution and consumption of liquor as a beverage because it is inherently dangerous to the human health.

Consequently, it is the privilege of the State and it is for the State to decide whether it should part with that privilege, which depends upon Liquor policy of the State. State has, therefore, the exclusive right or the privilege in respect of portable liquor.

A citizen has, therefore, no fundamental right to trade or business in liquor as a beverage and the activities, which are res extra commercium, cannot be carried on by any citizen and the State can prohibit completely trade or business in portable liquor and the State can also create a monopoly in itself for the trade or business of liquor. State can also impose restrictions and limitations on the trade or business in liquor ad a beverage, which restrictions are in nature different from those imposed on trade or business in legitimate activities and goods and articles which are res commercium. State of Kerala vs. Kandahar Distillers, AIR 2013 SC 1812[15]. Thus in India the legal drinking age is non uniform.

Alcohol Policy World Wide

There is an uniformity in the legal drinking age in all the other countries. Either it is illegal or no restrictions or any fixed age but it is uniform for that particular country. Like in the Country of Afghanistan alcohol is prohibited, in Argentina is fixed to 18 years, for Cambodia they have no legal drinking age. Similarly in the rest of the countries also there is a uniform legal drinking age. the neighboring Asian country of Nepal fixed the drinking age to 24, while further in the north, the land of China and the eastern country of Singapore considers 18 years to deal with alcohol. The minimum drinking age in Japan and South Korea have fixed at 20 and 19 respectively. Drinking is prohibited in most of the Islamic countries; however, the non-Muslims living in Pakistan are allowed to consume alcoholic beverages over the age of 21.

Almost all African countries, except Egypt and Sudan, hold that 18 years old responsible enough for consuming alcohol. The countries of Latin America, Oceania, and Europe consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, France, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia have fixed the drinking age at 18. A purchaser of wine or beer must be 16 years old and spirits must be 18 years old in the countries of Austria, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

16-year-olds can buy as well as a drink or even work at a place selling wine in European countries of Italy and Portugal. The Scandinavian countries, other than Denmark, the minimum drinking age is fixed at 18, however, in fact, these rights are limited up to the age of 20. The purchasers of alcoholic beverages in Iceland and Sweden must be 20 years, though people of 18 and 19 are allowed to consume.

Finland and Norway allow 18 years old for lighter and less concentrated drinks, while the high concentrated drinks can be consumed when a person reaches 21 years old. The legal age of purchasing alcohol containing 1.2 to 16.5 per cent alcohol in Denmark is 16 years in shops and 18 years in restaurants and bars, though consumption and possession of alcohol is legal at all ages.

The rules vary in the Scandinavian countries and follow certain specific norms because historically alcoholism continues to be one of the major problems in the countries. Even today, in Sweden the state-owned

liquor shops shut down at 3 pm on paydays. This practice prohibits people to waste their money on alcohol after their shifts at 4 pm.

The United Kingdom has unique laws and the minimum age for purchasing is 18 years in a bar or from any off-license establishment, however, even children turning 5 years can consume alcoholic beverages in private. In England, Scotland and Wales, persons over 16 consume beer, wine, cider or perry along with a table meal when bought by an adult.

India is the only country worldwide in which there is different legal drinking age in different states. And since India has 29 states and 7 Union territories resulting in 36 different alcohol laws as compared to other countries which have only one alcohol laws in their country.

Lack of uniformity in ages for consumption of alcohol in India has created a turmoil, which can only be achieved when there is a uniform law. These, loopholes have inspired several intellectuals for digging deep into the existing problems.

Why It Should Be Uniform?

There are certain problems and demerits faced by citizens worldwide because of non-uniformity in the legal drinking age in India.

Some Of The Demerits Of Non-Uniformity Are:

  • Smuggling:
    It is a general fact that, if a person is advised or restricted not to do anything, the probability of doing that thing highly increases. Same is the case of alcohol. Even banning the consumption of alcohol hasn’t proved a significant step in decreasing the consumption of alcohol. In fact, this has led to an increase in the smuggling rate of liquor. The high amount of liquor is smuggled at the borders of the state. In 2018, India-made foreign liquor’s were smuggled in Rajdhani Express[16]. In dry Bihar, Drivers, attendants and employees have been caught in the recent past with liquor bottles in trains despite regular announcements that consumption, sale and trade of liquor in the State is illegal. Moreover, ore than 1.2 lakh people have been arrested and over 6 lakh litres of liquor have been seized ever since the new State Excise Act was enforced. The team of Dholpur police recovered 2,500 cartons of liquor from two trucks which were on their way to Gujarat via national highway[17].

    Certainly, this was not the only case that was reported of smuggling. If the law is unreasonable, society is sensible and intellect to break the laws. Liberty is a fundamental right for the survival of the human kind. This issue is not only for the states where the alcohol is banned but these issues are also reported in the areas where the legal age for drinking is high. Maharashtra has experienced such cases where the minimum age is set to 25.
     
  • Black Marketing:
    In the era of diversification, it is impossible to restrict someone. When a person has an alternate medium to consume the things, he would obviously incline and will be dependent on that. It is on the nation to ensure that the loopholes of the law should be filled. Ideally, if the drinking age is uniform in all the states, there is less probability that the smuggling of liquor will take place. Respecting the states that have banned the consumption on the grounds of religious and state morality, there the police have to ensure the decline in smuggling rate. The uniformity of drinking age will be applicable in those states where at present there is a high variation of drinking ages.

    In India itself, there are states where the legal age for drinking varies from 18years to 25 years and some of the places with an exception of 30 years. If the uniform drinking age is applied, it will automatically curb down the black marketing of the liquor because now the suppliers of the smuggled goods won’t get any benefit.
     
  • Discrimination between the citizens of different state:
    As we know that the legal age of drinking is non-uniform and it varies from state to state. The issue is very genuine and needs to be highlighted. Certainly, all around the nation, a similar type of people live. There is variation between the economic and social factors but at large they all represent a single country.[18]

    The non-uniformity of the legal drinking age at the very first hand discriminates between the people. The current law means that an 18-year-old in Uttar Pradesh is more responsible than an 18year-old in Delhi which is in reality not true. Under the article 14 of the India constitution, it is clearly mentioned that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth[19].

    Further, the only ground on which the discrimination can be done is that it should be positive discrimination which ascertains rational reason and intelligible differentia. In fact, when the right to vote and right to drive has a uniform legal age all over the country, why there is non uniformity in case of alcohol?

    The reasoning cannot be valid for the non-fixed case when other subjects which are of national importance have uniform age. Voting is a prudential subject for the nation as the whole political kingdom is selected through this system whereas driving is one of the important issues under the scope of national security. Ideally, if these two subjects that carry a lot more weightage than drinking, have a uniform age; the right to drinking itself should have a fixed legal age all over the country.

    John Stuart Mill said that, unless the action is self- regarding, minimum laws should be implemented on the subject and in case of alcohol for human consumption; it is a self-regarding subject unless it hinders the public morality or causes any other person a trouble. Eventually, after seeing the well-functioning of laws related to driving and voting that works on the principle of uniform drinking age, there will be no harm to the nation if alcohol consumption also applies the uniformity principle in the legal drinking age. The law is the same for all and calls for a fair and just decision universal throughout the country.
     
  • Confusion:
    Having different legal drinking age for different state creates lot of confusion among the citizens. Different states have a different legal age for alcohol consumption and even in that, different products like Beer, liquor, Wine have their own certain minimum age to consume. For a prudent person, it turns out to be a difficult position to remember these minimum ages. Certainly, if a person somehow manages to remember the minimum legal age for all the products at least in their state, there are undoubtedly 7 Union territories and 28 other states that rules their own minimum drinking age.

    Now, the problem comes when the person travels from one state to another state. For an example, a person who is 19 years old from Rajasthan where the legal age for alcohol consumption is 18 year carries a bottle of Liquor to Delhi where the minimum legal age of drinking is 21 year. The problem occurs when he is not aware of such fact regarding the minimum legal age in Delhi. He could be prosecuted and a fine can be imposed of Rupees 10,000 on him.[20] It is humanly impractical to remember certain ages for different states. This is a bad law for the state as it is defeating the purpose for what the law was figured out. Primarily, a uniform age can seek out this problem. If there is a uniform age for drinking in all the states, such issues won’t hamper the functioning of law. It will be viable for a prudent person to ensure that he should respect the governing law and further needs to fulfill the obligation by keeping himself under the realm of law.[21]

    In fact, in some cases, the different legal age in different states can be misused. People may travel interstate to consume alcohol. One state shares many borders with different states. In some of the cases, even one city touches 2-3 state borders. This creates an interstate problem.[22]This lack of uniformity among state laws provides teenagers with an incentive to drink and drive as they cross state borders in search of lower drinking age.24

    The result of every state having different minimum drinking age acts as a crazy quilt of different States' drinking laws and far too many blood borders where teens drive across to reach states with lower drinking ages. Supposedly, Delhi and Haryana have adjacent borders and the legal drinking age at these places are 21 and 25 respectively. There is a very high probability that, person who is less than 25 years and lives in Haryana will travel interstate to Delhi so that he could consume alcohol. In such cases, the whole social and economic purposes of different legal ages in different states stands defeated.

Conclusion
I also conducted a questionnaire research on my topic, and I was shocked to find out that 80% of my respondents weren’t even aware of the fact there is different legal age in different states within India. Maximum were of the opinion that it is fixed at 18 while some believed that it was fixed at 21. The demerits of non-uniformity has overpowered the merits. I agree that we need a age limit for drinking but that age limit should be uniform.

India is one of the countries in which approximately 50% of the citizens are alcohol consumers. There is an immediate need to regulate liquor consumption with an effective national policy. Nation has its duty to safeguard the health of the public and to ensure that in no sense there is a violation of article 21 or any of the rights. Liquor has obvious side-effects and if the legislatures fail to draft a regulatory policy, the denizens of

India would surely fall into an abyss. Alcohol, at present, is a state subject but there is an effective need of interference of the centre in this subject.
Uniform legal age for drinking is the need for an hour. As India flaunts its diversity, same needs to be protected and for that law which deals with the primary issues must be in control of centre for better and robust regulation like right to vote, right to drive, right to marry; right to liquor should also have a uniform age and in fact, there is also a need to a national policy dealing with all the laws relating to the alcohol.

References:
  1. Drinking Age, Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/drinking%20age, last accessed 14th September, 2020.
  2. Minimum Age Limits World Wide,<https://web.archive.org/web/20150505211133/http://www.icap.org/table/minimumagelimitsworldwide> last accessed 14thSeptember,2020.
  3. Australian Government Department of Health, What is alcohol, <https://www.health.gov.au/healthtopics/alcohol/about-alcohol/what-is-alcohol>, last accessed 4thOctober, 2020.
  4. Correspondent, Special. 'Liquor Smugglers on the Wrong Track in Dry Bihar’, The Hindu, 5 May 2018, www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/liquor-smugglers-on-the-wrong-track-in-dry-bihar/article23781018.ece., last accessed 28thOctober, 2020.
  5. Dev Ankur Wadhwan, Rajasthan: Liquor Worth Rs 2 Crore Meant for Gujarat Seized from Dholpur, India Today, 11 Dec. 2017, www.indiatoday.in/india/story/rajasthan-liquor-worth-rs-2-crore-meant-for-gujarat- seized-dholpur-11051562017-12-11, last accessed 28thOctober, 2020.
  6. Drink Nucleus, 'Did you know? – Each State in India has a different legal drinking age and restrictions’, http://drinksnucleus.com/law-and-awareness/know-state-india-different-drinking-age-limit-restrictions/, last accessed 4thOctober, 2020.
  7. Drink Nucleus, 'Did you know? – Each State in India has a different legal drinking age and restrictions’, http://drinksnucleus.com/law-and-awareness/know-state-india-different-drinking-age-limit-restrictions/, last accessed 4th October, 2020.
  8. Hindu Marriage Act, Section 5(iii).
  9. IANS. Underage Drinking Rampant in Delhi: SurveyINDIA TODAY, 1 Feb. 2009, www.indiatoday.in/latestheadlines/story/underage-drinking-rampant-in-delhi-survey-38621-2009-02-01.14 Liquor and Drinking Laws in India.,LawRato.com, lawrato.com/indian-kanoon/criminal-law/liquor-and- drinking-laws-in-india-646 , last accessed 30th October, 2020.
  10. Liquor and Drinking Laws in India., LawRato.com, , last accessed 30th October, 2020.
  11. Livemint.com,More than 50% of India’s Population 25 yrs or older: Survey<https://www.livemint.com/news/india/more-than-50-of-india-s-population-25-yrs-or-older-survey11593793054491.html>, last accessed 14th September,2020
  12. Madhumita Jaganmohan, 'Consumption of alcoholic beverages in India 2016-2020’, (Statista,April 8, 2020), https://www.statista.com/statistics/727026/consumption-of-alcoholic-beverages-india/, last accessed 2nd October, 2020
  13. Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
  14. Ratna Bhusan,’Millennials eager to raise a toast at 21’,The Economic Times(New Delhi,Nov04,2019,7:08 AM IST),<https://m.economictimes.com/industry/cons-products/liquor/millennials-eager-to-raise-a-toast-at-
    21/amp_articleshow/71884021.cms>, last accessed 15th September,2020
  15. Shekhar, Kumar Shakti. Modi Must Either Ban Alcohol or Allow It in All States for Same Price, DailyO- Opinion News &Analysis on Latest Breaking News India, Living Media India Limited, 25 Sept. 2015, www.dailyo.in/politics/liquor-bannarendra-modi-make-in-india-licence-raj-gst-bootleggers/story/1/6453.html., last accessed 30th October, 2020.
  16. Staff reporter Haryana Border Turns into Haven for Liquor Smuggling. , The Hindu, 4 Aug. 2014, www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/haryana-border-turns-into-haven-for-liquor- smuggling/article6279283.ece., last accessed 1st November, 2020.
  17. State of Kerala &Ors vs Kandath Distilleries, AIR 2013 SC 1812
  18. The Constitution (Sixty-first Amendment) Act, 1989.
  19. The Constitution of India, Article 14
  20. The Constitution of India, Article 47.
  21. The Constitution of India, Schedule VII, List-II (Entry 51 and 54).
  22. The minimum age of purchasing alcohol in Delhi as per Section 23 of Delhi Excise Act, 2009, is barred at 25 years of age [email protected], 'Legal Drinking Age And Dry Days In India’, (Legodesk, March 5, 2020), https://legodesk.com/legopedia/legal-drinking-age-in-india/, last accessed 4th October, 2020.
End-Notes:
  1. MadhumitaJaganmohan, 'Consumption of alcoholic beverages in India 2016-2020’, (Statista, April 8, 2020),
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/727026/consumption-of-alcoholic-beverages-india/, last accessed 2nd October, 2020
  2. ibid
  3. Australian Government Department of Health, 'What is alcohol ', <https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/alcohol/aboutalcohol/what-is-alcohol>, last accessed 4th October, 2020.
  4. Minimum Age Limits World Wide,<https://web.archive.org/web/20150505211133/http://www.icap.org/table/minimumagelimitsworldwide> last accessed 14th September,2020.
  5. Drinking Age, Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/drinking%20age, last accessed 14th September,2020.
  6. Hindu Marriage Act, Section 5(iii).
  7. Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
  8. The Constitution (Sixty-first Amendment) Act, 1989.
  9. The Constitution of India, Schedule VII, List-II (Entry 51 and 54). 10 The Constitution of India, Article 47.
  10. [email protected], 'Legal Drinking Age And Dry Days In India’, (Legodesk, March 5, 2020), https://legodesk.com/legopedia/legal-drinking-age-in-india/, last accessed 4th October, 2020.
  11. Supra (note 10)
  12. State of Kerala &Ors vs Kandath Distilleries, AIR 2013 SC 1812
  13. Drink Nucleus, 'Did you know? – Each State in India has a different legal drinking age and restrictions’, http://drinksnucleus.com/law-and-awareness/know-state-india-different-drinking-age-limit-restrictions/, last accessed 4th October, 2020.
  14. Supra (note 10)
  15. Supra (note13)
  16. Correspondent, Special. 'Liquor Smugglers on the Wrong Track in Dry Bihar’, The Hindu, 5 May 2018, www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/liquor-smugglers-on-the-wrong-track-in-dry- bihar/article23781018.ece. , last accessed 28th October, 2020.
  17. Dev Ankur Wadhwan, Rajasthan: Liquor Worth Rs 2 Crore Meant for Gujarat Seized from Dholpur, India Today, 11 Dec. 2017, www.indiatoday.in/india/story/rajasthan-liquor-worth-rs-2-crore-meant-for-gujarat- seized-dholpur-1105156-2017-12-11, last accessed 28th October, 2020.
  18. YoshimitsuTakie, et al. To Drink or Not To Drink: The Indian Adolescents' Choice Between Friends and Family, vol. 27, JOURNAL OF AMERICAN.
  19. The Constitution of India, Article 14
  20. IANS. Underage Drinking Rampant in Delhi: SurveyINDIA TODAY, 1 Feb. 2009, www.indiatoday.in/latestheadlines/story/underage-drinking-rampant-in-delhi-survey-38621-2009-02-01.14 Liquor and Drinking Laws in India.,LawRato.com, lawrato.com/indian-kanoon/criminal-law/liquor-and- drinking-laws-in-india-646 , last accessed 30th October, 2020.
  21. Liquor and Drinking Laws in India., LawRato.com, , last accessed 30th October, 2020.
  22. Shekhar, Kumar Shakti. Modi Must Either Ban Alcohol or Allow It in All States for Same Price, DailyO - Opinion News & Analysis on Latest Breaking News India, Living Media India Limited, 25 Sept. 2015, www.dailyo.in/politics/liquor-ban-narendra-modimake-in-india-licence-raj-gst-bootleggers/story/1/6453.html., last accessed 30th October, 2020. 24 Staff reporter Haryana Border Turns into Haven for Liquor Smuggling. , The Hindu, 4 Aug. 2014, www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/haryana-border-turns-into-haven-for-liquor- smuggling/article6279283.ece., last accessed 1st November, 2020.

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