Alcohol Drinking in Public Legal or Illegal in India?
Drunkenness is defined as a state in which the person who has consumed alcohol in an amount sufficient to cause him to lose control over his feelings. The quantum of the same should be to an extent where the person in the influence of alcohol is unable to execute the work/task for which is engaged at the material time.
Consumption of alcohol has not restricted itself to a particular class or section of society. It is widespread amongst both rich and poor. Statistically, engaging in prolonged drinking increases the risk of committing violent offences. Around 40% of inmates who are charged got violent offences where under the influence of alcohol during the time of the commission of the crime. Therefore, to control the crime rate, the health of the people, and due to the various public policies, the government has formulated laws which govern the sale and consumption of alcohol.
Alcohol is a subject in the state list under the seventh schedule to the Constitution of India. Therefore law governing the sale and consumption of alcohol varies amongst the states.
Drinking laws also list down the places where the alcohol can be sold in the states. Where in some state, liquor may be sold at a departmental store, grocery, farmhouses. The state may allow selling of alcohol on tourist areas, beaches, and houseboats. The sellers are required to hold a license to sell alcohol; otherwise, the selling of alcohol is illegal.
Drinking in public often creates a nuisance and is therefore punishable by law. Consuming alcohol at public places may attract the offender a fine of Rs. 5,000, and if he creates a nuisance, then the fine may hike up to ₹10,000 with a jail term of three months.
Section 40, Delhi Excise Act, 2009 states that, if a person is found to
- Public consumption of alcohol. ‘
- Creating nuisance in the aforementioned state.
- Permitting drunkenness or allowing the gathering of unsocial elements in the premises of liquor establishment; shall be punishable under law.
When the offender commits a crime which may have the same ingredients as that mentioned in clause (a), the offence may attract a penalty of Rs.5000.
When the offender commits a crime which may have same ingredients as that mentioned in clause (b), the offence may attract a penalty of Rs.10,000 and a term of imprisonment which may extend to three months.
When the offender commits a crime which may have same ingredients as that mentioned in clause (c), the penalty of the offence may hike up to Rs.50,000 and a term of imprisonment which may extend up to six months.
Section 510: Indian Penal Code
Indian Penal code also provides for the punishment in case of misconduct in public by the drunken person. It says that whoever, in a state of intoxication, appears in any public place, or in any place which it is a trespass in him to enter, and there conducts himself in such a manner as to cause annoyance to any person, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to twenty-four hours, or with fine which may extend to ten rupees, or with both.
Supreme Court’s stand on the issue
Supreme Court, in the case of State v. Sanjeev Nanda, commented regarding the consumption of alcohol in public places, especially in respect of drinking driving.
Drinking and Driving is a threat to Indian Society. Late-night elites possess a culture of late-night parties, and drinking and driving have become a part of life. Liquor consumption reduces consciousness and vision, and this makes it difficult for the offender to judge the distance of the far objects accurately. Due to this, there has been a significant increase in the number of accidents and have affected the pedestrians as well. Further, in more unfavourable conditions like fog, mist, rain, whether it is night or day, it can reduce the visibility of an object to the point of being below the limit of discernibility. In short, alcohol leads to loss of coordination, poor judgment, slowing down of reflexes and distortion of vision
Lawyers often argue that the word ‘public place’ is ambiguous. For example, a bar/liquor shop/pubs is a public place, and drinking at such places cannot be criminalized. This issue is complex and needs a clear interpretation.
Constitution makers have not failed to take a stand regarding the consumption of alcohol. Article 47 of the Constitution of India states that “The state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and drugs which are injurious to health.”
Dry Days and the Dry States
There are some states which are known as dry states. In these states, alcohol is totally banned from living inhabitants. Following states are dry states in India by virtue of the respective statutes.
- Gujrat- Bombay Prohibition (Gujrat Amendment Bill), 2009.
- Bihar- Bihar Excise (Amendment) Bill 2016
- Nagaland- Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act (“NLTP”), 1989.
- Manipur- Manipur Liquor Prohibition Act, 1991.
The aforementioned states are the liquor-less states in India. Any form of liquor consumption and selling is prohibited. There are some days explicitly on which the sale of liquor is prohibited. Republic Day (26 January), Independence Day (15 August) and Gandhi Jayanti (2 October) are usually dry days throughout India as they are considered as the National Holidays, so every state is bound to celebrate that day as a DRY DAY.
After the study of the liquor laws in the various states, it can be inferred that state governments are trying to make a willful attempt to reduce the crime rate and its perilous consequences significantly. As a result, laws relating to the permitted age of liquor consumption and selling of liquor varies with the state. However, these laws are violated at a tremendous level. This shows the condition of liquor laws is just like any other legislature in India, “Taken for granted.” Illegal selling of alcohol in dry states usually and during the period of election is a common sight. It is essential for the nation to be strict towards such laws, made for the upliftment of the society.
 “Alcohol-Related Crimes: Statistics and Facts” (Alcohol Rehab Guide) <https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/alcohol/crimes/> accessed June 19, 2019.
 State v. Sanjeev Nanda, (2012) 8 SCC 450.
 ¶ 86, State v. Sanjeev Nanda, (2012) 8 SCC 450.