The recent police crackdown on popular pubs and lounges in the city, in which many patrons at the spots have alleged harassment, has initiated a debate on the relevance of several draconian laws that the khaki-clad men are using to take action.
These laws should not be abused, said experts and former cops. "More than oversimplification of the laws, what is important is that the police do not misuse them," said MN Singh, former commissioner of police, Mumbai. "The police must consider the social parameters before charging someone with indecency. The term is relative."
The biggest issue is related to the consumption of alcohol. "It doesn't matter that prohibition ended in Mumbai in 1973. The Bombay Prohibition Act remains, and the police use it to their advantage. The penalty is quite severe," said YP Singh, former IPS officer and lawyer.
The law makes it mandatory for Mumbaiites to obtain a liquor permit for consuming and stocking alcohol. What's more, the permit allows you to consume only defined quantities. "Anyone exceeding these limits can be punished under the Bombay Prohibition Act," said Mohan Varde, superintendent of state excise department.
Another anomaly is that the permit requires the person to consume alcohol for health reasons. "Since this declaration is false in most cases, it is evident that the law has not only outlived its utility but is also contradictory," said Singh.
While the state-wide permissible age for consuming liquor is 25 years for hard liquor and 21 years for beer, under the Bombay Foreign Liquor Rules, only a person above 25 years can apply for a permit.
Experts complain that the Act allows the police to arrest, imprison and fine anyone behaving in a disorderly manner in a public place. However, what comes under 'disorderly behaviour' is left to the discretion of the policeman.
Similarly, under the Bombay Police Act, 'indecent' behaviour in public is punishable, but what counts as indecent is undefined.
Citizens allege that these laws are being used to harass people. "You can't go to a club as you may get detained. You can't choose how much alcohol you want to consume. You cannot hug a female friend in public because a policeman might find it indecent," said Karan Sirsalewal, 27, a brand manager who lives in Goregaon.