Gujarat Prohibition Act
This Blog is written by Ruthika Reddy from St. Francis College for Women, Hyderabad. Edited by Ujjawal Vaibhav Agrahari.
For ages, alcoholic beverages have been in use in human societies, and their history is old as mankind. Alcohol consumption patterns are continually evolving, and today, alcohol is the most commonly consumed beverage in the world. India’s alcohol culture has grown as a result of colonization. Alcohol constitutes one of the most important products of the world addiction demand. The alcohol industry is seldom affected by price, and even when the price of alcohol rises in India, demand remains high. India has one of the most thriving liquor markets on the subcontinent, and alcohol generates huge revenue every year. However, the legal framework is far more diverse than the market as the country lacks a uniform liquor policy. Even today, alcohol sales and consumption are completely banned in the Indian states of Bihar, Gujarat, Tripura, Mizoram, Nagaland, and the union territory of Lakshadweep. Gujarat has enacted a law that prohibits the sale, purchase, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The law has been in effect since the state of Bombay was divided into Maharashtra and Gujarat on May 1, 1960. It was known as the Bombay Prohibition Act (1949) before Bombay was divided into Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960. Today the act is applicable only in the state of Gujarat and is known as the Gujarat Prohibition Act. Prohibition of alcohol has its pros and cons, but in a country like India where the consumption of alcohol is ample, prohibition of alcohol in the above states has been quite difficult, and the system continues to face challenges even today. The Gujarat Prohibition Act 1949 had undergone amendments in 1964, 1978, 2003, 2005, and 2009. Gujarat is the only state in the country that has a death sentence for individuals found guilty of making and distributing lethal liquor (Gujarat Amendment Bill 2009).
SIGNIFICANCE OF DEVELOPMENT
As a tribute to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Gujarat has prohibited the consumption of alcohol since 1960. Even after alcohol was banned, bootlegged liquor also known as Hooch was commonly available in Gujarat. Hooch is made by separating Methyl Alcohol and adding water to industrial alcohol – a risky procedure that can leave residues of deadly Methyl Alcohol. The brew is a gradual poison that damages the kidneys and intestines, eventually leading to death. Between 1977 and 1989, there were seven major hooch disasters in Gujarat, resulting in the deaths of many people. The state government established the State Prohibition Department in 1996 to combat the liquor mafia, but it was disbanded in 2006 due to a shortage of police officers. There were no cases of alcohol poisoning in Gujarat during the department’s tenure. In July 2009, the consumption of bootlegged liquor led to the death of more than 136 people in Ahmedabad. The Laththa Commission was appointed by the Gujarat government to investigate the 2009 hooch tragedy in Ahmedabad, which led to the death of many people. Gujarat recorded the highest deaths from consumption of illicit liquor since 1989 when 132 people died in Vadodara in days. Following the Hooch tragedy, the Gujarat government was criticized and there were calls for the state’s alcohol prohibition act to be repealed. The death toll from the hooch disaster did not affect people’s attitudes, and the consumption of alcohol continued as usual. Immediately after the Hooch tragedy, the state assembly passed the Bombay Prohibition (Gujarat Amendment) Act, 2009.
After the act was passed, thousands of businesses were raided, and hundreds of bootleggers were arrested, as the state government launched a massive crackdown on the illicit liquor trade. The police conducted over 8,000 raids around the state, booking 6,713 people for violating the law. The state government has also proposed tougher penalties to stop the supply of illegal liquor in the state. This resulted in the growth of illicit liquor dens, whose homemade brew is primarily consumed by low-income families who cannot afford the high-priced drinks available outside the state. Following the implementation of the prohibition, Gujarat has seen multiple cases of alcohol poisoning. The proportion of cases related to drinking was relatively low in the year of the hooch tragedy (2009). Every year many people were convicted for violating the laws and there was an increase in bootlegging activities. The annual revenue loss due to the alcohol ban in the state is estimated at around Rs 8000 crores. The tourism industry suffered a huge blow after alcohol was banned in Gujarat. The decline in tourism increased unemployment among the locals. Although the law provides liquor permits to foreigners and outsiders, it is a cumbersome process. To avoid spillovers into other sectors, Gujarat has revised its prohibition policy over time to allow alcohol use under particular conditions, such as health permits, tourist permits, and group permits for holding business meetings.
The Act defines ‘liquor’ as wine, beer, toddy, and all liquids containing alcohol or any other intoxicant which the government may declare to be liquor for the purposes of the act. Section 65A of the act states that any person found manufacturing, selling or buying laththa (spurious liquor), constructing or working any distillery or brewery for it or found using, keeping, transporting laththa, shall be punished, on conviction by imprisonment for a period of up to ten years, but not less than seven years, as well as a fine. According to Section 84 of the act anyone found drunk or drinking in a common drinking house, or present for the purpose of drinking, on conviction faces a fine of up to 500 rupees. Section 22A of the act states that no one other than a registered healthcare practitioner may issue a prescription for intoxicating liquor. Any officer found unlawfully releasing a person, abetting the escape of any person shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of up to one year or a fine of up to one thousand rupees, or both under Section 94 of the act. Under section 66(1)(b) anyone found “consuming, using, possessing, or transporting any intoxicant or hemp” is liable for punishment. The accused’s veinous blood must contain no more than 0.05 percent alcohol, according to Section 66(2)(b). Section 116C of the act states that it is the responsibility of the Prohibition Officer or the Police Officer who has confiscated any liquor to submit a sample of the same to the State’s Forensic Science Laboratory for a detailed analysis report as soon as possible.
In this case, the petitioner went to a lodge with another person and was served food. He asked the servant if there was any liquor, but there was no liquor at the lodge. The petitioner pushed the servant as a result of which the servant fell and sustained an injury. The petitioner was sent to a hospital where his blood sample was collected. The forensic laboratory found that it was containing 0.1495% of alcohol. The accused was prosecuted for the offences under Sections 66(1)(b) and 85(1)(3) of the Act.
The petitioner was found drunk near a hospital, and he was found without a liquor pass or a permit. The court convicted him of an offence punishable under S. 66(1)(b) of the Act and he was sentenced to three months’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 500/- and in default of payment of fine, he had to undergo one and a half months’ further rigorous imprisonment.
In this case, the appellant who was a district health officer was found consuming alcohol at a party organized by the accused. On receiving the information, the police rushed to the place, and the raid was carried out in which five glasses and two empty bottles, all smelling of liquor, twelve empty soda water bottles, and one full bottle containing liquor were seized by the raiding party. The appellant and the accused were convicted under section 66(1)(b) for possessing and consuming liquor.
India has various central as well as state laws, that limit the level of alcohol of consumption, but how effective these laws are implemented is a matter of concern. The studies of the state and central government report that alcohol prohibition in some states has caused additional problems such as illegal liquor production and distribution. Despite heavy monitoring and regulation spurious liquor claimed the lives of 177 people in Gujarat between 2012 and 2016. Prohibition of alcohol in Gujarat pushed the regulated market underground and increased bootlegging activities. A year after the ban on alcohol was imposed trade of illicit liquor flourished along the borders, as the neighboring states have no prohibition on alcohol. In Gujarat, the privileged continue to have access to alcoholic beverages, while the poor turn to illegal alcohol brewing, resulting in a rise in methanol poisoning deaths. The money involved in the illicit liquor business is estimated to be equal to the state exchequer’s loss in excise and customs taxes. Prohibition of alcohol is an irrational step as alcohol is an important source of revenue and livelihood in our country. There is a need for a uniform national policy on alcohol. In addition, there is a need to spread awareness about alcohol-related problems. Existing regulations relating to availability and marketing regulations, advertising limits, and especially the legal drinking age must be strictly enforced. Stringent penalties must be imposed for driving under the influence of alcohol. A rational alcohol control policy with specified objectives such as alcohol taxation, production, and promotion policy is the need of the hour.
Policymakers should concentrate on enacting laws that promote responsible behavior and compliance. The drinking age should be set uniformly across the country, and no one under that age should be allowed to purchase alcohol. Drunken public behavior, domestic violence while under the influence, and drinking and driving should all be punished severely. The idea that banning alcohol will solve the problem of alcoholism is oversimplified, whereas the situation is far more complicated. Between morality, prohibition, and freedom of choice, there are other concerns such as the economy, jobs, and so on. Despite the fact that current alcohol regulations are far from perfect, all the data available suggests the need for new regulations to be established and enforced in order to produce healthy individuals and communities.