Liquor is an inseparable part of the vast majority in India. Consumption of liquor amounted to 5.4 billion liters in 2016 which was expected to go up to 6.5 billion liters by 2020. It is a matter of lifestyle and choice for individuals, irrespective of the fact if it's a healthy choice or not. This leads to a question in any common citizen's mind about whether he has the fundamental right to consume liquor or not and whether the State Government absolutely banning liquor in their territory is backed by authority and justification or not.
The first instance of challenging the constitutionality of ban liquor consumption and trade was done in the case of the State of Bombay vs. FN Balsara. In this case, this court held that a restriction that had been imposed under Sections 12, 13, 23, and 24 of the Bombay Prohibition Act 1949, does not infringe the rights of the citizens. The Act was decided to be valid and it was stated that the Act is unconstitutional only to the extent that ordinary use of products for medicinal purposes shall be allowed.
Right to Consume Liquor: A Fundamental Right?
A two-prong argument regarding whether the right to consume liquor is a fundamental right or not can be considered, defined with Article 21 and Article 19 (1) (g). In the landmark case K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union Of India, the Apex Court recognized the right to privacy as a fundamental right enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. It is argued by many that the right to privacy which has been guaranteed by the Constitution also includes the right to consume liquor. Since it is the personal choice of an individual constituting a crucial component of privacy and thus decisions regarding what he consumes are included under the fundamental right of Article 21.
Furthermore, the principle of reasonable restriction for the right to privacy settings in the Puttaswamy case mandated the government to prove that (a) there is an existence of law, (b) there is a legitimate state aim, and (c) there is the nexus between the aim and method to achieve the aim. Liquor is definitely injurious to health since it leads to disorders such as high blood pressure, cardiac arrest, lung failures, etc. However, it is a point to contemplate whether a blanket ban on liquor consumption can be termed as a reasonable restriction on one's right to privacy or not.
The second prong regarding the right to alcoholic drinks as a fundamental right is as per Article 19 (1) (g). According to this Article, every individual citizen owns the right to practice any profession or occupation which he deems fit. Right to Alcohol stems from this Article which has been guaranteed by the Constitution and an absolute ban over the trade of liquor and its consumption results in violation of this provision. Only reasonable restriction as per Article 19 (6) is under the authority of the State and not an absolute ban.
Reasonable Restriction to Fundamental Rights
According to the provisions of Article 19 (6), the state has the authority to make any such law that imposes a reasonable restriction for the purpose of general public interest regarding the right envisaged under Article 19 (1) (g). It empowers the State to impose restrictions on the trade of liquor if it deems that it is against the interest of the public at large.
The courts have had different opinions over the years regarding the question of whether laws regarding the ban on liquor consumption can come under reasonable restrictions to the right to privacy or not.
In Anoop M.S. vs. the State of Kerala, the High Court of Kerala dismissed the petition regarding the right to take intoxicating drinks as a fundamental right. It stated that the right to consume liquor comes under the preview of the reasonable restrictions of the right to privacy.
While on the other hand, the Patna High Court ruled that the blanket ban on liquor consumption and trade brought by the Bihar Government stands in violation of the rights conferred to the citizens. Justice Navaniti Prasad Singh stated that the right to privacy is an integral part of Article 21 as it is an individual's right to decide what he does in the confinement of his house under the right to privacy as well as Article 14 and 19 of the Constitution. He also refuted the authority of the State under Article 47 to impose a liquor prohibition.
Statutory Responsibility of State Under Directive Principles of State Policy
As per the provisions under the Directive Principles of State Policy in article 47, it is stated as the state's responsibility to encourage the levels of Nutrition standard of living, and health of the citizens at large. It also entails that the State shall make efforts in order to bring prohibition of consumption of any intoxicating drink or drug that is considered to be hazardous to health. However, this provision has an exception in cases of medicinal purposes.
The implication of Article 47 results in the State having the authority described in order to prohibit the consumption of liquor and other intoxicating drinks since it is injurious to health and public health is the responsibility of the State. Through the process of imposing bans on liquor products, the State Authorities attempts to accomplish its obligation under article 47 and as a result of which, a fundamental right to consume liquor cannot be considered to exist per se.
It can be concluded that at the moment no Indian citizen has the absolute fundamental right to consume or trade liquor in India. It is yet up to the Supreme Court to bundle all the absolute liquor ban cases and provide a concrete decision of whether trade and consumption of liquor is a fundamental right or not. Till then, it is under the authority of the State Governments to decide the laws regarding trade and consumption of liquor. Instead of a complete liquor ban, certain rules shall be implemented by the respective governments in order to create a balance in the interest of those who are in support and those who are against the right to consume alcohol, in the direction of natural justice.