Article 47 of the Constitution of India states, “…. the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health”. The laws which regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol vary significantly from state to state, with only four states implementing full prohibition. Each state changes from time to time … flip-flopping from full prohibition to modified prohibition to no prohibition at all. Now, I see you scratching your heads and wondering why Filosofa cares about the state of prohibition in India, but bear with me here …
In spite of legal restrictions, alcohol consumption in India has risen more than 55% over a period of 20 years, and drunk drivers are said to account for as much as 70% of India’s road deaths each year. So, the government of India decided to make a change. An Indian supreme court judgment delivered in December and enforced since 1 April has banned the sale of alcohol within 500 metres (about one-third of a mile) of India’s state and national highways. The original Supreme Court ruling in December appeared to apply only to shops. But on March 31, just hours before the ban was due to take effect, the court said restaurants and bars would also have to comply.
Never let it be said that the people of India are not resourceful!
The maze built outside the Aishwarya Restrobar in Kerala state extends the distance between its entrance and the nearest highway. In Rajasthan, hundreds of miles of formerly state highways have been reclassified as urban roads. Administrators have ordered the same in Mahrashtra, West Bengal and several other states and territories. Roads in Gurgaon, a hub for technology companies, malls and high-rises south of Delhi, have reportedly been barricaded, increasing the “motorable distance” between a major expressway and some pubs and hotels in the city. All efforts to skirt the court’s order are a showcase of what Indians call “jugaad”, their famous ingenuity in the face of legal or physical barriers.
Now obviously these measures to skirt the new law are doomed to failure if the government is serious about upholding the new law, but business owners and states are claiming that the timing of such changes is purely coincidental.
Shiv Lahari Sharma, an engineer with the Rajasthan government, told the Times of India that the mass reclassification of roads in his state in April was a coincidence. “Our mandate is to construct and maintain roads,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the SC ruling on liquor shops.”
In Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub business park, 34 bars and pubs are awaiting a ruling on whether they can remain open. The entrance to the park was shifted in early April from one side, perilously close to the highway, to another more than 2km away. But this, too, was simply good timing, said Mukesh Yadav, a manager at the site. “It’s not to get around the ban,” he said. Instead the entrance was moved to comply with an underpass that happened to open the day the liquor ban came into effect.
Those who have been less innovative, however, are suffering under the new law. A manager for India’s most acclaimed restaurant, Delhi’s Indian Accent, said daily revenue had fallen by 100,000 rupees (about $1,550). The restaurant even had to stop serving is chocolate rum ball! Customers have cancelled bookings made months in advance. A spokeswoman for the restaurant said it was appealing to authorities to find another way of measuring the distance.
“Just in [rough] terms we are looking at close to about $10 billion worth of annual revenue loss in front of our eyes right now,” said Rahul Singh, honorary secretary of the National Restaurant Association of India. “We’re talking about hotels and restaurants and clubs and golf clubs and even armed forces [clubs]. We serve beer. Yes, we have food and snacks, but people come to have beer and then they have food with it. Beer first, food later.”
Meanwhile, the Times of India reports that on Saturday night the prohibition and excise department’s enforcement wing conducted surprise raids and booked 58 cases against 30 commercial establishments.
It is anybody’s guess how seriously this law will be enforced. And the reason for this post? I just wanted to have some fun and write about something other than the gloomy state of affairs in U.S. politics. 🙂