Article 47 of the Constitution directs the Indian State to prohibit the consumption of ‘intoxicating drinks’. Being part of the Constitution’s Directive Principles chapter, the State is not legally bound to implement this provision. 

After the Constitution came into force, only a handful of State legislatures enacted laws to either restrict or impose a total ban on alcohol consumption. These laws have often been challenged in different ways. Parties have argued that these laws violate the right to property (State of Bombay and Anr. v. F.N. Balsara), religious freedom (Anoop M.S. v. State of Kerala), and personal liberty (Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverages Companies v. State of Bihar). These challenges, however, have mostly failed.

On 23 June 2021, the Gujarat High Court witnessed a rather new constitutional argument that aimed to take down Gujarat’s infamous prohibition law. The Petitioner argued that the law was unconstitutional as it violated the right to privacy; State control over the consumption of alcohol within the confines of someone’s house would amount to a violation of an individual’s right to privacy and an intrusion into his/her private sphere.

The right to privacy was upheld as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of K.S. Puttuswamy v. Union of India (2017). The Court unanimously declared that the right to privacy is a fundamental right under Article 21 in particular and Part III on the whole. The judges in Puttuswamy recognized both spatial privacy and decisional autonomy as facets of the right to privacy.

Constituent Assembly members who invoked the rights to liberty and religious freedom to oppose the inclusion of Article 47 in the Indian Constitution were unsuccessful. And so were parties who opposed prohibition laws after the Constitution came into effect. The Gujarat High Court is yet to decide if the latest case stands. Would the right to privacy offer a new constitutional upshot for opposing prohibition laws or would this be just another hill upon which such challenges would die?

Read this in Hindi here

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Debate Summary: Article 47