The article 'An overview of alcohol laws' by Snehil Sharma intends to explore the present-day alcohol regime in India as well as the global scenario regarding the same

The article 'An overview of alcohol laws' by Snehil Sharma intends to explore the present-day alcohol regime in India as well as the global scenario regarding the same. The historical facets of alcohol will be discussed and the landmarks judgments by respective courts shall be analyzed.

India's history relating to alcohol is a distinct and complex one. For hundreds of years in Indian culture, alcohol has been, in one way or another, at the center of societal discussions for a variety of reasons. It has seen periods of minimal regulation, during which it wasn't even given much thought, and periods of conservative movements, such as the prohibition era, during which the production and distribution of alcohol were rendered illegal. Even the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, supported comprehensive alcohol prohibition in India because he saw it as a serious societal illness.


Our syncretic Indian culture is unique in itself since it has always served as a sort of holding company for different ethnic groups with their own distinctive customs, languages, and dialects, as well as a sizable population of believers, rationalists, and heretics. But being a very culturally diverse country, opinions of society in India vary according to place, caste, gender, and moral standards. This is the reason why; alcohol laws have always remained to be a matter of debate for a considerably long period of time.

It is estimated that alcohol intake accounts for 4% of illnesses in the world. They include ill health caused on by trauma, violence, and unintentional accidents as well as chronic diseases like liver cirrhosis and various types of cancer. Due to these reasons, the majority of governments make an effort to control alcohol usage through legislation, albeit only a small number of nations do so explicitly.

Historical background

Alcohol has been a part of human civilization since the beginning. The majority of historians and archaeologists concur that alcoholic beverages have been produced since the Stone Age by fermenting fruit. Alcohol was frequently diluted with water in order to make water potable, which was more of a requirement. Ancient civilizations such as Chinese, Egyptian, Sumerian, Persia, Greek, Roman, Indian, and others all have evidence of greater systems for producing alcohol.

Alcohol arrived in Indian territory, much earlier than anyone would have thought. It fluctuated with the forces of authority, occasionally gaining prominence and other times slipping into obscurity. It didn't "arrive" to India, to modify that initial assertion; alcohol was as much a locally produced necessity as any other staple.

We were among the first civilizations to learn about distillation science and apply it. Some historians, however, question the assertion that Easterners were among the forerunners in distillation and assert that Europeans were responsible for its invention in the twelfth century. Therefore, the Indian stance with regard to the evolution of alcohol is debatable in the present day as well, but it has been an inevitable part of Indian history before as well as after independence.

The timeline of the history of alcohol in India shows changes in regulations. Government and the leaders have frequently made attempts to limit its sale by enforcing laws and levies. However, regulating the alcohol regime still remains a matter of concern for the Indian government.

Indian legal framework

In India, Article 47 of the Indian Constitution's directive principles of state policy (DPSP) states that

"the State shall endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health, except for medicinal purposes."

However, because "liquor" is a state subject, it is the state that can allow the sale of alcohol or impose a ban on it.

Schedule VII, Entry 8 of the State List under the Constitution of India specifically prescribes that the subject of alcohol shall be dealt with by respective states and they are free to frame laws as per their requirements. The National Family Health Survey 2019–21, which got released in 2022, shows that the greatest percentages of men (53%) and women (24%) who drink alcohol are in Arunachal Pradesh. Contrarily, alcohol is not allowed in some states, like Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, Nagaland, etc. This is due to the distinctive legal frameworks relating to alcohol in India.

The first ever Indian legislation on the prohibition of alcohol was introduced in the year 1954 by Morarji Desai who was Chief Minister of Bombay Province which also led to a strong protest by the Koli community and there were rallies far and wide by Koli people. The Prohibition was imposed on the Koli people who were traditional distillers of alcohol or wine in Maharashtra mostly in Dharavi. Kolis of Bombay distilled the alcohol from traditional fruits such as Jamun, Guava, Orange, Apple, and Chikoo.

The states have been framing legislation since then, each state has its own legal drinking age and some states also have various requirements for buying and consuming alcohol. However, confusion caused by these rules and regulations makes it difficult to implement and put alcohol consumption legislation into effect. The act in many states was silent regarding the legal drinking age or the legal buying age. In this case, it is assumed that both parties are the same age for convenience's sake.

The legal drinking age for states like Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, and Puducherry is only 18 years. Kerala has its legal drinking age as 23 years whereas Punjab, Chandigarh, Maharashtra (light beer is allowed at the age of 21), Haryana, Daman and Diu, Dadra, and Nagar Haveli have their drinking age as 25 years. All other remaining states have 21 years as the minimum age for alcohol consumption. Bihar, Gujarat, Tripura, Lakshadweep, Mizoram, and Nagaland strictly prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol. Additionally, it is partially prohibited in some Manipuri districts.

International framework

Every country is seeking higher economic growth with international trade and they often enter into trade agreements with other countries for smooch trade relations. They are majorly dependent upon the trade relations that they enter into with other countries for their mutual trade maximization. The only international body dealing with international trade regulations is the World Trade Organization (WTO), making sure that trade moves as smoothly, predictably, and as freely as possible between countries. It also acts as the dispute settlement mechanism for settling the conflict in trade between the countries.

In the International scenario, Alcohol has turned out to be a game changer as far as international trade is concerned. The alcohol industry in recent times has the capability to influence such trade agreements and it actively strives to utilize this influence for lowering tariffs, limiting the scope of local laws that are already in place, opening new markets, and maximizing market access. Free trade agreements tend to lower trade restrictions and boost competition further reducing costs and encouraging alcohol consumption.

However, there is another side of the international scenario which highlights the dire need of promoting public health over trade. World Health Organization is a specialized body of the UN focused on international public health. According to the World Health Organization's Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2018, alcohol was found to be the primary cause of 3 million (5%) deaths worldwide in 2016 and 13.5 percent of fatalities among persons aged 20 to 39. The WHO's global approach to reducing the harmful use of alcohol also inhabits the commitment from the national government to minimize the alcohol relate to impact on public health.

Therefore, it is the need of the hour to gather realization regarding the inherent conflicts which exist between unbridled free trade relations between countries and international public health. There is a need for international regulation which can exclude alcohol from trade agreements so that the industry's influence in trade can be countered.

Landmark cases

There have been various instances when the courts have passed landmark judgments relating to alcohol:

1) In the case of State of Bombay and Another v. F.N Balsara, AIR 1951 Bom 210, the constitutionality of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949 was in question. A five-judge bench unanimously ruled that the aforementioned Act is only illegal to the extent that "ordinary use of liquor for toilet and medical preparations" is prohibited; the remainder of the prohibition on alcoholic beverages shall still be in effect.

2) In another case of Khoday Distilleries Ltd. v. State of Karnataka, 1995 (1) SCC 574, various rules relating to alcohol were in question. It was held that freedom to engage in any occupation, trade, or business shall not include engaging in those activities that are intrinsically harmful to the health, safety, or welfare of the general public.

3) Ugar Sugar Works Ltd. v. Delhi Administration and Others, Writ Petition (Civil) 321 of 2000, is another landmark case relating to the alcohol trade. Under the Punjab Excise Act of 1914, specific policies concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages in the NCT of Delhi were enacted. These policies were challenged in this case. The three-judge SC bench dismissed each and every claim of the fundamental right to consume alcohol. It declared that

"trading in intoxicants, including liquor, had no fundamental right."


Alcohol causes a number of health problems, such as high blood pressure, and occasionally, people who are drunk have a tendency to act violently in public. In India, just like any other restriction, the prohibition of alcohol has also been taken for granted. Any regulation intended to regulate alcohol consumption is swiftly ignored, and people always find a way to defy the law. The government must take extremely serious steps to ensure that the legal drinking age is strictly observed, and law enforcement must work diligently to do this. In order to assure that all those laws are followed, it is necessary to have laws with severe penalties.


[1] Magandeep Singh, A short history of India's drinking culture, Available Here

[2] Mrinal Pande, From the Vedic age to the Mughals and the Raj, Available Here

[3] Legal Drinking age and Dry Days in India, Available Here

[4] Donald W. Zeigler, The alcohol industry and trade agreements: A preliminary assessment, Available Here

[5] Pepita Barlow, Deborah Gleeson, Paula O'Brien, Ronald Labonte, Industry influence over global alcohol policies via the World Trade Organization: a qualitative analysis of discussions on alcohol health warning labeling, 2010–19, Available Here

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Snehil Sharma

Snehil Sharma

Snehil Sharma is an advocate with an LL.M specializing in Business Law. He is a legal research aficionado and is actively indulged in legal content creation. His forte is researching on contemporary legal issues.

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