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Breath analysers in pubs: Seriously, what has Chandigarh admin been drinking?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 8 September 2017, 11:14 IST

An ambiguously drafted order by the Chandigarh administration on installation of alcohol breath analysers in the bars and pubs in the city has sent everyone into a tizzy.

The order which was issued by the Excise and Taxation Department on Wednesday aimed at controlling the alcohol consumption of the people. But the manner in which it was been drafted called for around 125 liquor licensees in the city to not only install breath analysers on their premises but also ensure that the customers consume alcoholic drinks within the legal limits. Sources said the excise department decided to revoke this order and a fresh one elaborating on things would be issued in its place.

The initial order passed on Wednesday read, “In order to make people aware about the ill-effects of consumption of alcohol more than the legally prescribed limit and to restrict them to intake the alcohol within the legal limits, you are hereby directed to install 'Alcohol Breath Analysers' in your licensed premises within seven days from the issuance of this letter and to ensure that the consumption of alcoholic products by customers is within the legal limits”.

The legal limit is 30 mg of liquor in 100 ml of blood. The order further said, “You are also directed to submit a compliance report to the Excise and Taxation Department, Chandigarh, by September 13.”

This led to a lot of confusion with some welcoming the step on the grounds of 'checking alcohol consumption' in the society while the others raising a series of questions.

People associated with alcohol trade pointed out that the order was ambiguous on several counts. The very first question being raised was on the very need for the bars and pubs to have these analysers installed. Apart from an additional cost that may have run from Rs 20,000 to Rs 1 lakh, it would also mean that a dedicated employee would have to be deputed the constantly change the pipes of the analyser.

The second issue raised was that the order was totally ambiguous about the taverns and 'ahatas' that are adjoining almost every liquor vend in the city. These are places where people go after purchasing liquor from the vends to consume it along with snacks that are made available to them.

“How will you know that the person coming to your bar is already not drunk or how much he has already consumed? It is for him to decide how much he can handle and he is generally aware of the law. In the days of bar or pub hopping it is common for people to have a few drinks at one pub and then proceed to another. You don't put a customer who has just entered in onto a breath analyser,” a person employed in one of the bars, pointed out.

Chandigarh is one of the few cities in the country where liquor laws are already being implemented in a far better manner than most of the cities. The police are consistently putting up pickets in different parts of the city on daily basis to check drunken driving carrying out breath analyser tests right up till midnight.

“Anyone who has consumed more liquor is wary of driving back home in that condition. He will obviously run into trouble with the cops and get his vehicle impounded only to face the court the next day. What have we got to do with this?” said the bar employee.

It was also being stated that besides the installation of the breath analysers, how does the administration expect the bar managers to convince customers to take drinks only up to permissible limits? “It makes no business sense. Would I tell my customer to stop saying he has already had enough? In fact I would want him to have maximum because this is the only way that my profit increases,” said a functionary from restaurant industry.

They there were also questions being raised about there being chances of breath analysers at bars and those with the cops giving different readings.

Towards Thursday evening, sources said that the order was revoked. It is learnt that the administration would be coming out with a detailed order in its place that would also cover taverns and 'ahatas' besides making installation of breath analysers at bars and pubs voluntary.

However, neither the District Magistrate Ajit Balaji Joshi who holds the additional charge of Excise Commissioner or the Union Territory Home Secretary Anurag Aggarwal were available for comments despite repeated efforts.

The hotel and bar enterprise is yet to recover from the losses incurred on account of the closure of units serving liquor for several months following a Supreme Court order with regards to their location within 500 metres of the national highways.

The entrepreneurs say that it has just been a little time when their units were allowed to reopen that such ambiguous order was issued. They are also complaining that the administration took a license fee from them for the entire year without giving any relaxation for the period that they had to remain closed.

This is the second occasion in the last year and a half when the Chandigarh administration has landed in a controversy following ambiguous orders. The earlier occasion was when the ambiguously drafted 'Controlling of Places of Public Amusement, 2016' that had left several points for individual interpretations placing the Chandigarh administration in the eye of a storm.

First published: 8 September 2017, 11:14 IST