The announcement by the city authorities in Mumbai, the financial capital of India, last month that license would be needed for consuming alcohol have raised many eyebrows.
The authorities said that they would enforce the Bombay Prohibition Act of 1949, which means that any person who is caught consuming alcohol without permit would be fined 50,000 rupees ($900) or jailed for five years. This imposition comes following the city police noting the rise of rave parties in Mumbai, which raised the need to regulate drinking habits.
The permit will allow an individual to possess 12 units of liquor, where one unit is equivalent to 750 ml of hard liquor, 1,500 ml of wine and 2,600 ml of beer. The fees are 5 rupees ($0.1) for a daily license, 100 rupees ($2) for a year and 1,000 rupees ($18) for a lifetime permit.
However, the public are not completely in support of this move by the city authorities. Many feel that it is an archaic law, the imposition of which is a restriction of their personal freedom.
I wonder in which century we are living in. There are so many other things which are in urgent need of attention in this city. But we are going after such impractical and old fashioned rules, Arun Gopal, a software engineer living in Mumbai reacted.
There are also those who consider that the imposition of permit rule will result in harassment of the public and also promote corrupt practices from police authorities. Already we are seeing that public is being looted. This rule will present another means for those with power to seize money from the common man, said Anand Iyer, a finance manager living in Mumbai.
This is not the first time that restrictions are placed on the consumption of alcohol in India. States like Gujarat, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland have already prohibited manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol.
Recently, noted social activist Anna Hazare took up the issue of alcohol consumption in the country. He made the controversial statement that those who drink should be tied to pillars and flogged until they become aware of the ill effects of their wrong doing and commit not to touch even a drop of liquor.
In Gujarat, the state where Mahatma Gandhi was born, the prohibition law is strictly followed. Making and selling spurious liquor is a serious offence in the state.
India is not the first country to follow the prohibition law. Islamic law bans the consumption of alcohol and countries Saudi Arabia and Iran have strictly enforced prohibition. In Dubai, a person must have a minimum salary of 3000-4000 DHS to get the license to drink.
But in the case of India, prohibition appears to be strange since the country has a tradition of alcohol consumption. Turn the pages of Hindu mythology and one can find that the favorite drink of Indra, the king of gods and goddesses, was an alcoholic beverage called Sura. Ancient text of Ayurveda, which is a system of traditional medicine native to India, has elaborated the medicinal effects of alcohol.
Authorities feel that there is the need for making sure that consumption of alcohol is regulated in the country as drinking habit is seen to be rising with the spread of the culture of consumerism. In its 2011 monograph, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, highlighted the rise of alcohol consumption in the country along with the rise in income, especially among those who are employed by the information technology companies in metropolitan cities.
Even then, data from the World Health Organization show that alcohol consumption in India is lower compared to that in the Western countries. In India, pure alcohol consumption among adults (15 years and above) in liters per capita is only 0.75, which, when compared to Russia (15.76), Germany (12.81) and Belgium (10.77), is very much low, according to the WHO.
Those who live in the West may not be able to digest these rules. They live in societies where alcohol consumption is an integral part of their culture. Imagine a French man having to limit the consumption of wine or a Belgian forced to take license to enjoy beer!
The Germans might wonder what is there to make such huge fuss about consuming alcohol. After all, they come from the land of Oktoberfest, a 16-day festival held annually in Munich, which is known globally for the fantastic beers served. The festival is notably inaugurated by the mayor of Munich giving the first beer to the minister-president of the State of Bavaria. Certainly, such a public display of favoring alcohol consumption cannot be imagined in India.
However, it has to be noted that alcohol has become intricately connected to the politics of the country. One main reason for the political parties supporting prohibition is that they want to cash in on the women vote bank. Many women in India identify alcohol as one of the major worrying factors for the abuse they are facing and their poverty.
However, it is doubtful that prohibition has made a real difference to their problems. Liquor is available even in those Indian states where alcohol is prohibited, but at high prices. There are reports that some corrupt officials and politicians, who in hand in glove with the mafia gangs, are responsible for making sure that there is a steady flow of alcohol in such states.
As noted by United Breweries chairman Vijay Mallya, the farce of prohibition leads to the illegal, unhygienic and unsupervised production of deadly cocktails which claim innocent lives. It is really the poor who get affected by prohibition.
The official report on a hooch tragedy in West Bengal in 2011, which claimed 90 lives, clearly point to the fact that the main issue was that the licensed liquor sold through the legal retail system was out of reach for the poor. Such tragedies raise the question on whether prohibition is the right way to tackle the problem of alcohol misuse.
Healthcare experts have called the necessity to adopt a participatory approach with measures to include the involvement of the entire community to tackle the misuse of alcohol. They also point to the need for measures of avoiding penalizing those who drink sensibly and also preventing illicit alcohol production.
Meanwhile, the debate is sure to continue in India - should drinking be left to the discretion of the individual or should authorities get involved.