- People prefer to drink on streets
- Youngsters mask booze in soft drink bottles
- Not very easy to arrest public drinkers
- Prohibits face 6 months in jail
With the hike in excise duty making it expensive to drink in bars and permit rooms, tipplers are choosing the easy way out — by drinking clandestinely on roads and in public spaces.
State excise officials, wine shop and permit room owners and citizens at large note that such instances of people buying liquor from wine shops and drinking on public property have increased after duty rates were hiked in 2011 and 2013. Officials admit this has ramifications on the safety of women and public order at large.
"According to the Bombay Prohibition Act, a permit is required for drinking. Moreover, people must not consume liquor in public view and so, designated permit rooms have been assigned for drinking," said a senior state excise official, adding that such instances of public drinking were on a rise. He added that some youngsters who frequented promenades like Marine Drive chose to mix white spirits like vodka in soft drinks to mask it.
The official, however, said even if the department arrested these drinkers, it was difficult to prove the charge due to various issues involved. The state excise department recently arrested five people from under the Grant Road (West) skywalk in Nana Chowk for drinking in public.
Maharashtra follows a policy of discouraging liquor consumption through a policy of high prices and low sales.
"People cannot afford drinking in hotels due to levies like service tax and VAT... so, they prefer going to wine shops and buying alcohol which can then be consumed on the road, in vehicles and building terraces," said Sudhakar Shetty, ex-president and advisor, AHAR, pointing to the price difference between wine shops and restaurants. "This is turning out to be a social nuisance."
He added that a nip of medium-range whiskey costs around Rs180 in a permit room (with rates varying across establishments), which was almost double the rates in wine shops, due to which footfalls in permit rooms and restaurants had fallen.
"Because liquor in hotels is expensive, people prefer to drink on the road. Such instances have increased over the years,"said veteran CPI leader and Nana Chowk resident Prakash Reddy, adding that the state excise department and local police continue to ignore this. Reddy said the intensity of the problem in Nana Chowk declined after he complained to the Gamdevi police. "This (problem) is increasing in Mumbai on a large scale," he said, adding how the drunkards would urinate there and pick up fights with each other, with some of these tiffs also getting physical and violent. He noted that this also had an impact on women's safety and the law and order situation at large.
"Since prices have increased, people cannot afford to drink in bars and restaurants. So, they choose to cut costs by buying small packs, which are easily available and easy to drink while commuting," said Arvind Miskin, president, Maharashtra Wine Merchants Association. He gave the example of beer, whose price had risen from Rs90 around two years ago to Rs110 today.
A state excise official said manpower shortage affected the ability for a strong crackdown on such illegal drinkers. The department has one inspector, two sub-inspectors and three constables for every 125 licences. "So, we largely act when we receive complaints. Otherwise, we are focused on stopping duplicate liquor, illicit hooch and duty evasion," said the official, adding that, hence, the police needed to crackdown on illegal drinkers.
The official said under the Bombay Prohibition Act, offenders could face up to six months in jail and fine for the first offence. The law also specifies penalties for drunk and disorderly behaviour.