Delhi may have a new liquor policy, but two of the key promises made previously — the lowering of the legal drinking age to 21, and a reduction in the number of dry days to 3 — appear to have remained just that for now, promises.
Neither is mentioned in the final policy that was notified by the government.
In a press conference on March 22 last year, Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, who is also the city’s excise minister, announced that the union territory’s government would embark on a new excise regime by slashing the legal age of drinking to 21, exiting the retail alcohol business, overhauling a labyrinthine tax system, and reducing the number of dry days to 3.
All these were to be included in a sweeping new policy meant to boost the city’s revenue, crack down on the liquor mafia, and improve user experience.
While the parts about the government quitting the retail business of liquor and restructuring taxes by charging it all upfront are explained in detail in the new policy, the document is silent when it comes to the other two aspects.
But since the two other decisions were announced by the government, it has led to confusion among customers. On November 23, HT reported how some liquor store owners were displaying posters at their stores saying “liquor sales not allowed to those below 21 years of age”.
The excise department later issued a clarification referencing the HT report : “It is clarified that as per the excise policy 2021-22, presently, legal age of drinking in NCT of Delhi remains as 25 years. In case of any changes in respect of legal age of drinking in NCT of Delhi, the same shall be communicated separately to all concerned.”
A senior government official said on condition of anonymity that both decisions — on the legal drinking age and the number of dry days — had the necessary approvals from all concerned authorities.
“But gauging the situation, the political executive was of the opinion that the two should be put on hold for some time. It is not that the government is not willing to do it, but the reason could be political in nature.”
To implement both decisions, the excise department has to issue separate notifications.
Though the Delhi government did not comment on the matter, in an interview to HT last month, Sisodia said that the government has approved the plan to reduce the legal drinking age, but he did not clarify when it will be implemented. “The notification will be issued in due course of time. There’s no problem there,” Sisodia told HT on December 8.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress have opposed the new excise regime. The BJP-led MCDs have even sealed at least 30 new liquor stores since November last year, while court cases are going on against several other outlets.
“Municipal elections are scheduled in about two months. So, it is very unlikely that such decision (on the legal age or number of dry days) will be taken anytime soon,” a senior excise official said on condition of anonymity.
In September 2015, the then seven-month-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government first floated the idea of reducing the legal drinking age in the Capital. Delhi is one of only six states or Union territories that pegs the benchmark at 25, encouraging people to misrepresent their age, force restaurants to be lax in monitoring or lose out on revenue, and present young people with the option of travelling to watering holes in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, which allows drinking at 21.
Delhi is now the only metropolitan city with the high drinking age – even in Mumbai, only hard liquor is barred for those under 25, while wine and beer is allowed at 21. In major global cities such as New York and London, the drinking age is 21 and 18 respectively.
As per the draft proposal, the only three dry days in Delhi were supposed to be on Republic Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti. At present, Delhi has 21 dry days, one of the highest compared to most states and UTs in India.