Do Indians need a licence to drink?
After police busted a rave in a swanky part of Mumbai last week, the city’s drinkers have woken up with an almighty legal hangover.
According to the Bombay Prohibition Act, introduced in 1949, every drinker in Mumbai needs a government permit — 5 rupees for a daily licence and 1,000 rupees ($18) for a lifetime permit.
Once an individual acquires the permit, they can possess up to 12 units of liquor at any given time. The penalty for boozing without a licence will be a fine of 50,000 rupees or five years in jail, or both.
I have three problems with this plan.
Two: if it is meant to keep underage drinkers away, the law looks tough to enforce. Drunk drivers are easier to catch and fine than people enjoying a tipple in the privacy of their home.
Three: corruption is endemic at every level in Indian society. These permits will open a tempting new way for officers to harass drinkers for bribes, as they already do for anything from traffic violations to getting a passport.
And how will this licence work in practice? Will police ask Nandan Nilekani, the man in charge of rolling out India’s first ever unique identity card system, to add a person’s drinking status onto their personal data? And will Mumbai, the financial hub of India, give its many tourists and visiting businessmen an alcohol visa on arrival?