Twenty-one is too early to start drinking, believes the Maharashtra government, which on Wednesday raised the age for alcohol consumption by four years, to 25. Even as existing regulations are rarely enforced, the state cabinet cleared this proposal under the new de-addiction policy.
So now, at 21 years, youngsters are officially permitted to only buy and consume beer; earlier, the limit was 18 years.
For drinking any other kind of liquor, youngsters will have to wait another four years; earlier this limit was 21.
There is no mention of an age restriction for drinking wine, which the state has been promoting as a major industry. Most grape farmers and vineries are located in Nashik-Pune-Sangli belt, where the ruling Congress-NCP combine has a strong presence.
The alcohol content in wine (12% to 22%) is much higher than that of beer (4% t o 8%).
Maharashtra is among the very few states that issues drinking permits based on the age of the person. Though the violation of the age limit has always invited heavy penalty and imprisonment up to six months, the law has rarely been implemented. It’s up to the excise department to ensure that people adhere to the new age restrictions.
The Cabinet also approved several other measures to discourage drinking and to control the sale of illicit liquor.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan denied that the decision smacked of moral policing. “The age limit is everywhere. We debated the issue because we faced a question whether we should discourage or encourage [drinking] culture in our state,” he said. “I will not say this policy is perfect. We can debate it further.”
The policy is not just about prohibition, said social welfare minister Shivajirao Moghe. “We know prohibition is not entirely possible by law enforcement. It is possible only through public awareness,” said Moghe, who plans to introduce lessons depicting the ill-effects of alcohol in school and college syllabi.
Under the new policy, there will be a regulatory board headed by the CM, which will review the policy every two months, amend it if needed and approve expenditure on projects.