A survey says nearly 80 per cent of those visiting pubs and bars in the Indian capital are below the legal age of 25 years. The findings come close on the heels of a shocking attack on young women at a pub in another city.
Of the underage population at the city's pubs, 67 percent are below 21 years of age, according to the survey by NGO Campaign Against Drunken Driving (CADD).
Delhi's Excise Law bans the sale of liquor to or by anyone below 25 years. If an underage person is caught consuming alcohol or if the vendor is caught, it could mean a fine of Rs.10,000.
However, the study finds the laws rather ineffective, as nearly 33.9 percent of those below 16 years of age easily procure alcohol from government authorised liquor shops, bars and pubs.
The law prohibits any person below the age of 25 years to be employed at any bar or pub. The offence is punishable with a fine of up to Rs.50,000 or imprisonment of three months to be levied on the outlet.
Still, nearly 55 percent of those working as service attendants in bars and restaurants are young boys and girls below the age of 25, says the survey.
The research was conducted from December 2008-January 2009, amongst 1,000 youth who go to pubs and bars. Nearly 85 percent of the youth surveyed were in the age group of 14 -21 even though the legal drinking age in Delhi is 25 years.
"According to the survey, in Delhi annually about 2,000 youths under age 21 die from motor vehicle crashes, other unintentional injuries, homicides and suicides that involve underage drinking -- Underage drinking is a prelude to drunk driving and thus it is important to curb it in the initial stages, so that it does not end up as a habit among young individuals," said Prince Singhal, founder of CADD.
Another startling fact revealed was that the drinking age in Delhi has gone down from 28 to 19 years since 1990. CADD estimates that in another five to seven years this figure may come down to 15 years.
The survey also found that it is not binding for liquor serving outlets or vends to verify the age of the consumer.
As per the Delhi Excise Law, university students even at the postgraduate and Ph.D level are underage as far as consumption of alcohol is concerned. But the survey found that nearly 44.4 percent of Class 12 students had consumed alcohol in the survey period.
"Underage drinking presents an enormous public health issue. Alcohol is the drug of choice among children and young adults. This initiative of a survey on underage drinking in the national capital was to intensify research, evaluation and outreach efforts regarding underage drinking," said Singhal.
CADD recommends that the minimum age limit for alcohol consumption should be brought down to 21 years from the archaic 25 years keeping in view the ground realities and that availability of liquor to minors should be curbed whether it is in residential areas or at petrol pumps.
Incidentally, the survey comes at a time when an incident at a pub in Mangalore has left many Indians shocked over what they call 'moral policing'. On Jan 24, activists of a rightwing group attacked young women and men at the pub, saying the women were violating "traditional Indian values".