Liquor laws are outdated, but we must follow them!

Jun 02, 2012, 05:49 IST | Urvashi Seth

In an interview with Urvashi Seth, Sanjay Mukherjee State Excise Commissioner insists that he isn't against Mumbai nightlife but just an upholder of the law

Do you think that Mumbai’s once vibrant nightlife has vanished? 
(Laughs) I am not against or in favour of nightlife. All I know is this — if you want to party, make sure you acquire all the mandatory licences and the drinking permits before you sip on a glass of alcohol. If you are found drinking without the required permits, you will have to face the music.

Representation pic

Many bar and pub owners have alleged that the police took action against them for violation of excise laws. Do the cops have the legitimate authority to book pubs for excise violation?
Not a single case of any such violation has been brought to my notice, either by bar owners or by cops. In a recent notification issued by the Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik, he has clearly stated that no cop is allowed to intervene in any excise-related matter, and we can see that cops are not interfering. Cops would have informed us about the instances of violation. In the event that they didn’t, bar owners can bring this to our notice. However, till date, we haven’t received any such complaints.

Straight talk: State Excise Commissioner Sanjay Mukherjee

Do you think police action is responsible for the dip in liquor sales in the state?
With sudden rise in liquor prices, the sales were bound to get affected. However, the revenue of the state has not been affected. Rather, the state has made record-breaking revenue this year. In 2010-11 we collected revenue worth Rs 5,800 crore, and in 2011-12, the figure rose to Rs 8,601.32 crore. The difference between the two collections is over Rs 2,800 crore, an overall target that was set for us some four years ago.

Recently, cops booked many youngsters for drinking without permits under the Bombay Prohibition Act. Do they have the authority to do so? Is it not the bar’s responsibility to issue permits to tipplers?
It is the sole responsibility of the tippler to ensure that he or she has a permit to drink. Bars are definitely at fault, but the tippler too needs to have his drinking permit in place. In the matter of detainments under the Bombay Prohibition Act, the Mumbai police have been vested with enough power to prosecute individuals found drinking without permits. They need not inform the excise department in order to prosecute anyone who drinks without a permit, unless it is a breach of the excise licence, where, for example, duplicate or spurious liquor is found in said premises. Till date, however, no such case has been brought to our notice where excise violation is concerned.

Don’t you think the law that makes drinking permits mandatory is an outdated one?
I agree that the law related to drinking permits is outdated. A long time ago, we had written to the government asking them to do away with the permit system. The government is yet to take a decision on the same. But the fact is that the law is still in place, and we have to follow it. It is the government that has the power to amend the law, not us. The law is very simple, and permits can be obtained very easily.

MiD DAY has extensively carried news on its pages relating to the growing friction between the excise department and bar and pub owners across the state, owing to laws that the latter think are causing their sales to suffer. While the rule that only allowed sale of two bottles per week was relaxed and increased to 12 bottles recently, the law that makes it mandatory for tipplers to obtain drinking permits for each and every drink is still a source of contention. Debate has also been sparked over the frequent crackdowns on liquor joints by cops.

What has the department done to make these drinking permits easily available to the people of Maharashtra?
Till last year the drinking permits were not taken seriously by the people in Maharashtra. But I have made sure that each tippler, even in the interiors of the state, can obtain the drinking permit easily. The state is earning around Rs 5 crore just by selling permits, including the one-day drinking permits, available in bars for Rs 2 for country liquor and Rs 5 otherwise. They can also get yearly permits for Rs 100 and lifetime permits for Rs 1,000. My team has been briefed that drinking permits should be issued on the spot, once the application is made. The applicant only needs to provide a copy of his age proof. We don’t even ask for a medical certificate. I also request the party organisers to obtain a one-day party licence whenever a party is organised – this is available for Rs 8,500 for Indian made foreign liquor and Rs 750 for wine. The licence will be issued in seven working days, or even earlier.  

Nagesh Mishra, advocate:
This law is outdated and should be scrapped. It is very old and has been misused many a times as it can be invoked to extort people. Why are we following archaic laws which are of no use to the present generation?

Ejaz Naqvi, advocate:
The outdated law should be scrapped. On one hand you encourage teenagers to vote, saying they are mature enough to vote and elect representatives, but on the other hand you say they are not of legal age to drink. This law itself is contradictory.

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