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Gujarat Prohibition Act 1949 challenged in High Court invoking Right to Privacy

Gujarat Prohibition Act 1949 challenged in High Court invoking Right to Privacy

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  • GS 2 || Polity || Constitutional Framework || Fundamental Rights

Why in the news?

  • The Gujarat Prohibition Act, 1949 is being challenged before the Gujarat High Court, more than seven decades after it came into effect as the Bombay Prohibition Act. The act has been challenged on grounds of ‘manifest arbitrariness and violation of ‘right to privacy.
  • The court is to give its verdict soon on the maintainability of the petitions.

Gujarat Prohibition Act, 1949

  • Following the reorganization of Bombay province into the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960, there was continued amendment and liberalization in the state of Maharashtra, especially in 1963.
  • The ground for the liberalization of the law was to check the business of illicit liquor and to overhaul the law relating to intoxicating drugs and narcotics total prohibition. 
  • Gujaratadopted the prohibition policy in 1960 and subsequently chose to enforce it with greater rigidity, but also made processes easier for foreign tourists and visitors to get liquor permits.
  • In 2011, the Act was renamed as Gujarat Prohibition Act.

Related acts

  • The Bombay Abkari Act, 1878
    • The Bombay Abkari Act, 1878, was the first hint at the prohibition of liquor (in the Province of Bombay).
    • This Act dealt with, among other things, the imposition of duties on intoxicants, as well as aspects of prohibition through amendments made in 1939 and 1947.
  • The Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949
    • From the standpoint of the government’s decision to enforce prohibition, there were “many lacunae” in the Bombay Abkari Act, 1878.
    • This resulted in the passage of the Bombay Prohibition Act in 1949.
  • Supreme Court in 1951
    • SC upheld the Act broadly, except a few sections, in the case of the State of Bombay and another versus FN Balsara.
  • Gujarat Prohibition (Amendment) Act In 2017
    • Was passed with the provision of up to ten years jail for manufacturing, purchase, sale, and transportation of liquor in the dry state.

Provisions in Indian Constitution

  • Liquor finds its place in the constitution in the seventh schedule (article 246) and Article 47 (DPSP).
  • Seventh Schedule
    • Entry 51 in the State List makes “Alcohol for human consumption” a subject matter of states. This provides states the power to make laws and charge duties on alcoholic liquors for human consumption.
    • Thus, each state has its laws, bylaws, and rules towards alcohol.
    • Due to this, the legal age of drinking, taxes on liquor, and procedure of doing liquor business differ from state to state.
  • Article 47 – DPSP
    • Directs the states to take measures to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.
    • This article directs that the state shall endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health. Most liquor ban policies are justified based on this article.

Grounds raised against the prohibition of liquor

  • Matter of right to privacy
    • The right to privacy is violated, which was given voice by the Supreme Court in 2017 in Puttaswamy’s judgment.
    • The Right is associated with the citizens’ right to eat and drink as per their choice.
  • The ground of manifest arbitrariness
    • It has been especially highlighted while challenging sections about the grant of health permits and temporary permits to out-of-state tourists.
    • The petition says there are no intelligible differences in the classes thus being created by the state on who gets to drink and who does not and violates the Right to Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution.

More arguments Against Prohibition

  • The petitioners argue that any law must take cognizance of the changing society and march in consonance with the developing concepts.
  • Revenue Loss: Alcohol taxes account for a significant portion of any government’s revenue.
    • These allow the government to fund a variety of public welfare programmes.
    • The absence of these revenues has a significant impact on the state’s ability to run public welfare programmes.
  • Employment- The Indian Made Foreign Liquors (IMFL) industry now pays more than Rs. 1 lakh crore in taxes each year.
    • It provides a living for 35 lakh farming families and direct and indirect employment for lakhs of workers in the industry.
  • Judiciary’s Burden
    • In April 2016, Bihar enacted a total prohibition. While it has certainly reduced alcohol consumption, the associated social, economic, and administrative costs have been far too high to justify the gains.
    • Over 2.14 lakh cases have been registered under the Act so far; 2.55 lakh people have been booked, and 1.67 lakh people have been arrested.

Counter arguments

  • The negative impact of Alcohol has been highlighted.
    • Sense of Violence and depletion of family’s resources
      • Several studies and research have shown that alcohol aggravates the Sense of Violence.
      • The majority of domestic violence crimes against women and children take place behind closed doors.
      • Alcohol depletes family resources and reserves, and its most vulnerable victims are women and children. The consumption of alcohol still carries a social stigma, at least within the family unit.
    • Constitutional Obligation
      • Defying the law is an “attack on the constitutional obligation of the State as the guardian of the population to protect the health and lives of its people.”
    • Following Gandhian principles
      • Moreover, the state government argues that it is “committed to the ideals and principles of Mahatma Gandhi and firmly intends to eradicate the menace of drinking liquor.” 
      • Article 47- The Constitution places a responsibility on all state governments to at least contain, if not curtail, consumption of alcohol.

Prohibition in the Other States

  • Bihar- A jail term of 7 years and a fine ranging from Rs 1 lakh to 10 lakh for alcohol consumption within state boundaries.
    • It provides a death sentence for manufacturers and distributors of illicit liquor in the event of a hooch tragedy.
  • Maharashtra- The law here allows the sale of liquor only to licensed persons but the licensing regime is quite liberal.
  • Kerala- Kerala has a strong liquor policy.
    • In 2014, the implementation of the law started in a phased manner.
    • Under this law, the bars are required to renew their licenses every year.
  • Manipur- Although the old law is in force, an amendment has been brought about to exempt five hill districts Chandel, Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong, and Ukhrul due to their traditional practice.
  • Nagaland- Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act (NLTP) banned the sale, consumption, possession, and manufacturing of alcohol.
    • Only some restricted permits are given.
  • Lakshadweep- This is the only union territory that bans liquor.
    • Only on the uninhabited island of Bagaram consumption is permitted.

Way forward

  • Economic loss can’t be ignored
    • In addition to issues such as morality, prohibition, and freedom of choice, there are other considerations such as the economy, jobs, and so on. A well-informed and constructive dialogue and discussion of the causes and consequences is need of the hour.
  • Framing laws that encourage responsible behavior and compliance
    • Policymakers should focus on enacting laws that promote and encourage responsible behavior and compliance.
      • The drinking age should be made uniform across the country, and no one under the age of 21 should be allowed to purchase alcohol.
      • Drunken behavior in public, domestic violence while under the influence, and drinking and driving should all be punished.
    • Governments should set aside a portion of alcohol revenue for social education, de-addiction, and community support.

Mains model question

  • The Gujarat Prohibition Act, 1949 is being challenged before the Gujarat High Court. What is the origin of the prohibition law in western India and what was the rationale?

References