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Promote responsible drinking, not dry days

What about directive principles beyond prohibition?

This evening, if you’re in Mumbai wanting to celebrate a big order your firm has won at a bar in the nearest five-star hotel, you’ll be stunned when you learn that it’s a dry day – commemorating Martyr’s Day – marking the day Gandhi was assassinated.

If you are among those who don't care whether the celebration is today or tomorrow or the day after, then it may not matter to you. But,  for those to whom the celebration is all about today — wanting to consume alcohol legally this evening — it does matter.

Take the case of the impact of the ‘election’ dry days in Punjab: “The Election Commission of India’s strict guidelines regarding liquor distribution during the poll period has had an unexpected effect in Punjab: the wedding plans of many have gone off track. With the days between 28 January and 30 January being declared as dry days, some 4,000 marriages in the state have either been postponed or have been shifted to other states” The full report can be read here.

 Promote responsible drinking, not dry days

The enforced dry days are meaningless when it is not illegal to consume alcohol on these days; it is illegal only to sell alcohol. Reuters

Weddings are postponed or shifted to a ‘wet’ state – because the consumption needs to be legal. What of those who do not care about the legality? “The famed Patiala peg has just grown larger! With just 13 days remaining for assembly polls, it's Bacchanalia in Punjab. Not that the liquor consumption is low otherwise, but election is 'party time' in more ways than one: It is political parties that pour out a 'heady campaign strategy' enabling several voters to party on free flowing liquor. Even though the Election Commission has wielded its model code of conduct, trying to play party pooper, parties fully stocked up to add 'liquid' appeal to their campaigns are letting liquor flow unchecked,” reported The Economic Times.

The enforced dry days are meaningless when it is not illegal to consume alcohol on these days; it is illegal only to sell alcohol at bars and shops. As in Punjab, liquor will be stocked by the political parties in readiness for the dry days to follow.

For the common citizen, liquor is available on dry days – it’s just more expensive. In the ‘dry’ state of Gujarat, liquor is available in plenty – all you need to know is a number to call. Sometimes, the hunt for alcohol can lead to tragedy, as it did when more than 100 people died due to consumption of illegal alcohol in 2009. “Chief Minister Narendra Modi knows fully well that every brand of alcohol is available in the state of Gujarat at two or three times the price charged in neighbouring states. This means that the government of Gujarat is losing thousands of crores in potential revenue." Vijay Mallya had said at that time according to a Zee News report.

The Gujarat government finds a way out of the loss. “Predictions that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi may liberalise the prohibition policy appear to be far from the truth. Instead, the Gujarat government will demand Rs 3,000 crore per annum from the government of India as the "cost of loss against excise duty" for upholding Gandhian values,” said The Times of India.

The root of the prohibition policy in Gujarat and the concept of dry days can be traced to the Directive Principles of State Policy. “Directive Principles of State Policy are in the form of instructions/guidelines to the governments at the centre as well as states. Though these principles are non-justiciable, they are fundamental in the governance of the country."

Among these principles is the one which reads, “To prohibit intoxicating drinks and drugs that are injurious to health.”

This is the one principle that governments remember and dust off once in a while, temporarily getting themselves a ‘Gandhian’ coat. What about the many other principles of state policy? For example, “The state shall endeavour to achieve Social and Economic welfare of the people by:

(1) providing adequate means of livelihood for both men and women.

(2) reorganising the economic system in a way to avoid concentration of wealth in few

hands.

(3) securing equal pay for equal work for both men and women.

(4) securing suitable employment and healthy working conditions for men, women and

children.

The Directive Principles also call upon the state:

(1) To secure for all Indians a uniform civil code.

(2) To protect historical monuments.

(3) To save environment from pollution and protect wild life.

(4) To make arrangements for disbursement of free legal justice through suitable

Legislation.

There is so much the Directive Principles ask governments to do, and a quick look at the suggestions will tell you that there’s hardly any commitment from the Centre or the states to address any – except in the case of prohibition.

And prohibition is, arguably, very difficult to achieve. As is tragically proven in every dry area when we have deaths due to consumption of illicit brews. There are no serious studies on the negative impact of prohibition in India; perhaps law-makers need to read Sober by act of parliament.

Rather than prohibition and dry days (which only serve to fuel an illicit, profitable avenue for law-breakers), it’s legal and responsible consumption that the governments need to focus on.

Unless, of course, they even bother to address the other directive principles.

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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2012 12:44:31 IST