The Delhi government announced several strict measures to regulate consumption of alcohol in public in the capital on 26 October. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said that these moves will include heavy fines as well as arrest and imprisonment for those violating rules.
Significantly, no new law is being enacted for the purpose. Only the existing law, the Delhi Excise Act 2009, will strictly come into force.
Sisodia announced that beginning 8 November, consuming alcohol at public places will attract a fine of Rs 5,000. Further, those found guilty of drinking and creating a ruckus will be slapped a Rs 10,000 fine, along with a jail term of three months. The Act also has a provision for a six-month prison term and a Rs 50,000 fine.
Impact of Swaraj Abhiyan
The objective of the move, Sisodia underlined, was safety of women and maintenance of general law and order in the city. He added that the government will carry out awareness drives till 7 November and then launch the crackdown.
It may be recalled that AAP has been facing the heat from Swaraj Abhiyan on allegations of running a liberal liqour regime in Delhi, while promising to rid Punjab of intoxicants if elected to power.
The Abhiyan, led by former AAP leaders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, had launched public hearings and direct action initiatives on the issue in the Capital.
This forced AAP to announce that no new liquor shops will be opened in the city this year and residents could get liquor shops in their vicinity shut if they wanted.
A message for the BJP?
The decision to strictly implement provisions of the Excise Act are a logical corollary, but there could also be another interesting facet to the move.
Ever since the Delhi High Court ruled that the Lieutanant Governor was the administrative master in Delhi, and not the elected government, the LG's office has initiated a mammoth review of all decisions taken that did not have its sanction.
This has essentially crippled the AAP government, not allowing it to take the smallest of decisions. Policing in the Capital has been a sticking point between the state and Union governments even before this situation, because the Delhi Police anyway reports to the Union Home Ministry.
With this latest move, AAP appears to be telling the BJP-led Union government that his government can take a step or two in spite of all the obstructions. That the move is in the domain of law and order could be intended to be a bigger slap on the face.
To enforce provisions of the Excise Act, Delhi government will need only the services of officers of its Excise Department. These officers are empowered by the Act to carry out arrests, search, and seizures.
Which means the AAP government will be able to pull off a major law and order exercise in the city without depending on the Delhi Police.
This will help it in achieving twin objectives of showing the people of Delhi that the government is functional and embarrassing the BJP by by-passing the Delhi Police. And that's exactly what makes the move is a clever one.
Sisodia, the de-facto leader of the government in the absence of a touring Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, has already swung into action. He got four liquor shops in Mayur Vihar raided on 24 October and canceled the license of the defaulting shops.
One challenge remains
However, there is one hindrance to the successful fruition of this idea. The Excise Department, like all other departments of the Delhi government, also falls under the jurisdiction of the LG's office and no indication has surfaced so far of his approval of these measures.
If LG Najeeb Jung decides to actively intervene and insists that Excise officers take sanction from him before these raids, this move too, like all the others, will stop in its tracks.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen