I have often wondered whether the age restriction on selling alcohol to the under 25’s in Delhi is good or
Apparently, there are many good reasons to support such a restriction. The strongest arguments in favour of the restriction are that young people are not mature enough to drink responsibly and to deal with the effects of excess consumption of alcohol. More particularly, excessive drinking by youngsters often leads to rash and dangerous behavior (such as drunk driving which has the potential to cause serious injury and to be life threatening), it encourages indecency and increases criminal activity.
A major argument against the restriction is that adults should have freedom of choice with respect to their own alcohol consumption.
Another argument is that if people are legally entitled- and thus deemed to be responsible enough by the State- to drive, get married, engage in consensual sex, become parents, join the Indian army and to vote at age 18 or 21, certainly they should be considered responsible enough to have a drink at the same age.
Proponents of both views make valid points. It is difficult to ignore the apprehensions expressed by those who support the current age restriction.
However, it is also significant to note that people in other states such as West Bengal, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, etc. are permitted, under the law, to drink at an earlier age.
Further, in several countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain etc., people start drinking alcohol in their teens. There is no evidence to suggest that people in the aforesaid states or countries grow up to be less responsible citizens than people in Delhi, or that their intellectual capacities are diminished as a consequence of drinking alcohol from a younger age.
We have to recognize the realities we are faced with. In spite of the age restriction on the books, people under the age of 25 routinely buy, consume and are served alcohol in our city. No real effort is made by the authorities to curb underage drinking. There is also no real effort made by the State towards educating children, in schools or through the media, about the ill effects of alcohol abuse.
In short, the age restriction of 25 is on paper only. Both sides on this debate must realize that their objective is one, not to curb or discourage drinking in adults, but to encourage responsible drinking in our young citizens of Delhi. I personally believe in freedom of choice ‘in all matters’ for youth over 18, including their choosing whether to drink alcohol or not.
However, I submit that the real issue is not at what age people should legally be allowed to drink or to be served alcohol in Delhi.
The minimum age is a number, which can, and does vary from country to country and even from state to state within our country. The real issue is strict enforcement of our drinking laws. What is
required is for the
administration to devise and take all possible measures to check underage drinking.
To further effectively tackle the problem of underage drinking, the authorities need to adopt a policy of “zero tolerance”. Unless stringent penalties and harsh punishments are imposed on all wrong doers, including persons who consume and sell alcohol in violation of the law and also on persons who permit underage drinking on their premises, there really will be no effective deterrent to underage drinking.
Without effective enforcement of the law, it hardly matters what the minimum prescribed age for drinking alcohol really is in Delhi.