There are very few Mumbaiites who would ever have had to own or produce a drinking permit to buy and consume alcohol. But on paper, the rules set down by the state make the permit mandatory and violation attracts heavy penalty, even imprisonment.
The latest move - of raising the drinking age - will remain a tokenism unless the state figures out how to get its enforcement agencies, like the excise department, to enforce it.
The permits are issued to people who fit the age criteria and pay the fee, which varies depending on the permit period. This can range from one day to a life-long permit and allows the person to buy and carry certain number of bottles for personal consumption.
“No retail shop or permit room has ever asked me for a permit,” said a 20-year-old student from Thane, who does not wish to be named. “But shops and bars and restaurants do display notices on the age limit.”
Social welfare minister Shivajirao Moghe, who initiated the new de-addiction policy, said enforcing agencies such as the excise department say they are too short-staffed to be able to implement the law.
“It is true that the excise department does not have the adequate personnel to man all the retail outlets and permit rooms across the state,” Moghe admitted.
Maharashtra has more than 10,000 permit rooms and 15,500 retail shops that sell Indian-made foreign liquor and country liquor. Excise minister Ganesh Naik and his officials were unavailable for comment.
A restaurant owner said when the state banned smoking in hotels, people evolved ways to defy the ban. “Similarly, the government is finding it difficult to ban hookah parlours in the city. I wonder how they will implement the new decision,” he said.
Dilip Giyanani, former vice-president of the Mumbai Liquor Retail Shop Association, said: “Instead of raising the age, the government should promote rational drinking.”