The act of quaffing alcohol as a celebratory gesture will always have its share of cheerleaders and opponents. For not only is the consumed product intoxicating, but so are the arguments. But one thing everyone agrees on is that ‘drinking and driving’ is a menace. The fact that many of us may have safely returned home after drinking and driving is no argument to play down the danger. One ‘Alistair Pereira’ — six people mowed down by an intoxicated driver — is bad enough. So when the Mumbai Police, with approval of the court, sent six people to jail for an unprecedented 30 days for drunken driving, at last there may be a real deterrent for those who thought that having ‘one for the road’ is perfectly all right.
In a separate development, the Maharashtra government has allowed a three-day leeway on the closing time for bars in Mumbai. On Christmas night, for instance, bars were allowed to stay open till 5 am. While there has been much surprise and ‘told-you-so’s, depending on which side of the drinking table one is sitting, the fact that binge drinking and an early closing time are linked can be borne by logic as well as empirical evidence. Britain, which started granting licences to bars and pubs to serve alcohol 24 hours a day in 2005, has seen a dip in binge drinking. Extending the time of liquor being served takes out the drinker’s psychological need to horde up for that ‘last drink(s)’. Mumbai, and the rest of India, could also do well by making ‘happy hours’ — where drinks are available at reduced prices during certain hours — redundant. The logic of ‘early’ closing hours also applies to happy hours. Instead of such schemes, drinks could be made cheaper at every hour of business.
The police getting serious about drunken driving is good news, as is the Maharashtra government’s approach to festive drinking hours. Now to see whether other Indian cities pick up the two trends — and whether Mumbai is allowed to extend the 5 am closing time beyond three days. And a third step: abolish those silly, pointless dry days.