In a controversial decision the state of New Delhi in India has severely weakened its alcohol laws.
New Delhi will shut down all government-run alcohol retail and completely privatize the sale of alcohol.
The state also lowered the minimum legal age for purchase and consumption of alcohol products. The previous age limit of 25 was lowered to 21 years.
Communities and advocates fear the change will cause more alcohol harm to young Indians. Meanwhile the alcohol industry rejoices in the new market they gained to maximize their profits.

India’s alcohol laws are currently governed by the federal states. The minimum legal age for alcohol purchase and consumption in India therefore varies across the country from 18 years to 25 years.

On March 22, 2021 New Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia announced the Delhi government had reduced the minimum legal age for purchase and use of alcohol products in the city from 25 years to to 21 years. The move was a part of the state’s new excise policy which was approved by government.

The government says lowering the minimum age is an attempt at curbing youth from going across the border for alcohol. But already there were issues with minors obtaining alcohol within the state borders itself. These stem from lack of verification of IDs in sale points and the acceptance of fake IDs.

We had filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court in 2017 seeking mandatory age checks to be introduced at all points of sale,” said Prince Singhal, founder of Community Against Drunken Driving (CADD), as per The Hindu.

The court had directed the Delhi government to frame a policy within three months. However, still there are no proper checks.” 

Prince Singhal, founder, Community Against Drunken Driving (CADD)

CADD believes India should have a national minimum age and proper verification checks to ensure minors are properly protected from the products and practices of the alcohol industry.

Many parents and citizens have voiced concerns that the new laws will expose their children and young people to rising alcohol harm. Several political parties have also criticized the move saying the government is putting profits ahead of citizens.

This is going to ruin the lives of a lot of 21-year-olds,” said Beena, citizen of New Delhi and mother of two children, as per The Hindu.

Beena, citizen of New Delhi

The government should not have done this. Now, youth will have a licence to drink and they’ll get hooked to it fast,” added Neelam Ahuja, citizen of New-Delhi, as per The Hindu.

Neelam Ahuja, citizen of New-Delhi

The opposition party BJP has also opposed the change in policy, saying it will increase youth alcohol use and harm. BJP blamed the government for “pushing youths towards alcoholism to increase revenue”.

Apart from reducing the minimum legal age, the Delhi government also announced new laws to prohibit the entry of those under the age of 21, and without “supervision”, in places that serve alcohol.

Furthermore, New Delhi will also shut down all government-run alcohol retail and completely privatize the sale of alcohol. Currently 60% alcohol retail is government owned while 40% is private owned. Already the private owned retailers make far more profit than the government retailers. Privatization of alcohol retail will unleash profit maximization motives, further eroding regulations of the products and practices of Big Alcohol in New Delhi.

According to the new policy the government plans to divide Delhi’s liquor retail trade into 32 zones. The license fees will be then collected upfront based on the zones instead of from every shop separately as it is done now.

The government of Delhi also plans to change the infrastructure of alcohol outlets, to make it more “dignified” thus, placing higher value on alcohol and strengthening a harmful alcohol norm in Indian society. Infrastructure changes include a minimum 500 feet space and no counter facing the street.

Higher minimum age better health

The move of the state government is contradictory to the best public health science. Evidence clearly shows that raising the legal minimum age has manny positive effects for children, youth and public health. When the United States (U.S.) increased their legal minimum age from 18 to 21 they saw a range of positive effects. These include:

  • 16% median decline in motor vehicle crashes,
  • Reduction in alcohol use in the past month among 18 – 21 year olds from 59% in 1985 to 40% in 1991, and
  • Alcohol use among people aged 21 to 25 declined significantly from 70% in 1985 to 56% in 1991.

Alcohol industry overjoyed with more access to push products on youth

Major multinational alcohol giants rejoice in the opportunity to exploit the Indian youth market and to make bigger inroads in India through this weakening of alcohol policy in Delhi.

Already, alcohol use is rising at an alarming rate in India. According to OECD figures, alcohol use had risen with more than 72.5% over a period of 20 years. This rise is causing a heavy toll on the Indian people – which increased even more during COVID-19.

Big Alcohol giants such as Pernod Ricard and Diageo have already made inroads in the country as is illustrated by India ranking ninth in the world for alcohol use and second place for liquor consumption. If the minimum legal age was reduced to 21 years in all of India, Big Alcohol industry would get a grip on 19 million additional young people as potential new consumers to exploit for profits each year.

[This article was updated on April 21, 2021 as per new information from The New Indian Express]


The Hindu: “Delhi’s decision to lower drinking age met with cheers and jeers

The Indian Express: “Delhi lowers drinking age: What’s the age limit to consume alcohol in other states

The Drinks Business: “Spirits industry predicts bigger returns as Delhi lowers legal alcohol age

CDC: “Age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age

The New Indian Express: “Delhi government’s new excise policy evokes mixed reactions