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Constituent Assembly Debates on Alcohol Ban

By Gayatri Virmani


The main issue of the constituent assembly debate is related to the other half of article 38(presently article 47 of the Constitution of India), which is a directive principle of state policy.  The amendment was raised by Mr. Mahavir Tyagi but Professor Shibaan Lal Saksena (United Provinces: General) wanted to include except “medicinal purposes” so that it becomes- “and shall endeavor to bring about the prohibition of the consumption of intoxicating drinks and drugs which are injurious to health except for medicinal purposes”. The entire debate revolves around whether there should be a complete ban on alcohol or drinks or they should be only allowed for medical purposes.

Central Arguments by the Assembly

There are central arguments by various people in the assembly. Professor Shibaan Lal Saksena’s main argument is that drinking is evil and the prohibition in Madras and Cawnpore has been beneficial. According to him, money will be saved by the drunkards and especially by labor and Harijan families who are mostly involved in drinking. He accepts the contention that there will be a loss of larger revenue, and expenditure on enforcing this prohibition will be higher.

According to Shri B.H. Khardekar, there are other religious communities for whom alcohol becomes essential like Parsis and Christians, for their religious reasons. His main point was that where will the resources come from to spend on this war because of disturbances in Hyderabad and Kashmir. There will not be enough resources to spend on primary as well as secondary education in a country in which both are required.  Larger revenues are required to defeat poverty. The prohibition is against personal liberty which will lead to stunted growth of population as they would not be able to make individual choices. There is a difference between drinkers and drunkards and the latter comprises only 1 percent out of 10 percent. Drinking is considered to be impious religiously and prohibited because of it seems illogical. Then, even Gods indulged in Sura.

According to Jaipal Singh, India is opposed to theocracy, being a democratic state. There is an interference with religious rights of Adivasis. Rice beer is essential for their religious ceremonies. It will be impossible for a Santhal to transplant paddy without rice beer.

According to Munniswamy, opposing Jaipal Singh, there is no such thing as toddy or brandy which is required for ceremonies of aborigines. There were no communities under Adivasis who came for the protest. Prohibition in Madras has improved physique as well as the economic position of the people.

According to BG Kher, consumption of drinks extinguishes morality sense, which is the sense of right and wrong. Instead of spending excise revenue on education, one should spend on teaching people to abstain from drinks and drugs. In Smritis as well, consuming liquor is considered to be a sin. Every rupee by way of excise is rather spent on the increase in crime, inefficiency and diseases.

According to A.V. Thakkar, the religious right of Adivasi in particular Bhils, the usage of liquor was twenty years ago.  His focus is on Bhils as a community in Gujarat, in Maharashtra, in West Khandesh and Central Provinces and Gonds of Central Provinces. Apparently, he had asked them about the prohibition on liquor and they were in support of it as it entices them.

According to Shri Lakshminaryan Sahu, Britishers bought wine and other drinks. He was relating religious freedom from the context of Sati to the religious rights of Adivasis related to drinking. Human sacrifices have been abolished and hence this kind of religious freedom should also not exist.

Sardar Bhopinder Singh majorly wanted to include tobacco in this amendment as it is more harmful than drinking.  The answer by Dr Ambedkar to Khardekar is that since it is the directive principle of state policy, it is not enforceable and the state has full liberty to act on the directive principle of state policy and for Jaipal Singh, these prohibitions do not apply to tribal areas directly according to 6th schedule para 12 and it is the duty of regional councils or district councils to determine whether a particular law made by the Centre or province should be applied to the areas inhabited by tribals. This amendment was upheld.  According to Amitabh Kant, CEO of Niti Aayog, it will lead to losses in tourism and the loss of livelihood could be 10 times the former number.

Data related to ban of liquor

There is evidence in support of arguments made by B.H Khardekar and Jaipal Singh, at present. The major focus is on recent bans in Bihar and the highway liquor Ban in the country and the perspectives related to religious and tribal communities have also been included.

The Supreme Court issued an order to ban the sale of liquor from pubs, bars, hotels which are within the vicinity of 500 meters, later for small towns it was modified to 200 meters. The rational nexus for this order was to reduce the road accidents, which were 16,298 in 2015 and deaths occurred were 6,755; mainly caused because of drunk driving due to which they over speed. This order led to the loss of Rs.50,000 crore as the tax revenue, loss of Rs 10,000 to 15,000 crore incurred by restaurants and pubs and loss of livelihood by 1 lakh people according to National Restaurant Association of India. After one month of the order passed, the sale of liquor companies have declined between 10 percent and 19 percent, leading to closure 30 percent of outlets out of which only 10 percent have reopened. The state of Karnataka has denotified its highways, the state is still worried about its revenue lost. There are 64 liquor vends in Mahe, which is the coast of Kerela, alongside the NH66; which is highly dependent on liquor tourism. The 750 ml of cheapest variety of rum is Rs.62 in Mahe, which will cost Rs.350 in Kerela. This ban will lead to the loss of livelihood of 1000 families. Goa requires special attention because there are 11,500 liquor shops in the coastal state and over 50 percent would cease to exist after this ban.

Nitish Kumar imposed a ban on sale and consumption of liquor in Bihar, in April 2016. It includes bars and restaurants; exemption has been given to defense canteens. One cannot keep liquor at home as well. This ban has led to a loss of Rs.4000 crores per year for government and loss for hotels is Rs. 2.5 crore per year. This has led to hit in liquor sales for beer and whiskey bottles Rs.3000 Crores and Rs60 to 120 Lakh respectively. Blackmarketing has risen up, according to a study conducted which showed that liquor now comes from Nepal and administration is bribed for Rs 5000- Rs 10,000 every month. 30 deaths have been reported, the main cause is withdrawal symptoms. There are more cases, but they are unreported by the families. Now, the addicts are dependent on more dangerous alternatives like Bhang, Opium, cough syrups etc. According to Nalanda Medical College’s report, the rush has decreased in the hospital and there are fewer cases of victims of withdrawal symptoms. This contention needs some attention as the primary cause of this could be black marketing. The cost has been doubled; for  Rs 1000 bottle Rs 2000 and for Rs 1600 bottle Rs 3000 needs to be paid respectively.

The ban is applicable to Adivasis in Bihar. Mahua Sharab is used to offer to deities as their ritual.  In Jharkand according to Panchayats (Scheduled Areas Act) Act 1996, tribal areas can store up to 5 liters of alcohol. This act is not applicable in Bihar as panchayats in tribal areas do not have the status of a scheduled area, which is problematic. The ban has also interfered with religious rites of the Christian community as they cannot offer liquor to their God.

There is a religious history attached to Hindus related to alcohol. In Rigveda soma is offered to God as a drink. Also in Sutras, alcohol can be served on special occasions such as when there is an honored guest, when the new bride enters her husband’s home. In Vedic culture fermented drinks like kilala which was made from cereal and masara made out of filtered rice were served.

Analysis and Conclusion

There is an assumption made by debaters that Adivasis accept the ban. However, the current data stated above shows something else. Within Adivasis, they have failed to recognise different communities and there is ignorance by them when it comes to Christians and Parsis. They are trying to impose Hinduism but are ignorant about religious history. Judgment was passed by the Supreme Court stating that liquor and fundamental rights do not go together. I do not agree with this stance of the Court as there is a loss of livelihood. The addicts show withdrawal symptoms and if not that then there is a huge Black Market for alcohol. Because of the presence of the black market, there is a possibility for selling illicit liquor which is bought by people who have low income levels, which can lead to a lot of deaths. Rather than banning alcohol completely along the highways or in Bihar – making it a dry state, there should be strict laws applied for driving. Also, the Patna High Court judgment states that this is violative of the right to life and liberty and hence it should be an individual’s choice to drink or eat whatever they want.


Gayatri Virmani is a third year law student at Jindal Global Law School.


Image Source-  India Today 

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