The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.
Article 47 (Draft Article 38) casts public health obligations on the state. It also seeks to prohibit alcohol and drugs consumption except for medicinal purposes.
The Assembly primarily debated on the alcohol and drugs ban.
The Draft Article, as introduced in the Assembly, did not have the clause on alcohol and drugs ban. A member moved an amendment seeking to place a complete ban on alcohol and drugs. Another member proposed to provide an exemption for ‘medical purposes’. Several members were in support of this ban.
It was argued that the ‘labour and Harijan families’ would benefit the most as they spend a substantial amount of their wages on toddy and liquor. The revenue earned by the State was far less as compared to the revenue lost by people indulging in this ‘vice’. One member elaborated that the revenue from liquor was three times lesser compared to costs due to “increase of crime, disease and the loss of efficiency.”
A member strongly rebutted this move and offered several arguments. The American experience of the ban on prohibition informed that a total ban was not a practical measure. In India the Madras prohibition ban was not successful; innumerable people were still consuming alcohol. Moreover, the State has been bearing the costs of the incarcerated for breaking the ban. And the argument that all communities were in favour of prohibition was flimsy. This member was not convinced of invoking Gandhi in support of prohibition. Instead, he noted: “The essence of Gandhism is love, toleration; its essence is non-violence, search for truth and all these important things. The externals of Gandhism or the outward trappings of Gandhism are Khaddar and prohibition. Unfortunately, the followers of Gandhiji, some of them have been giving more importance to the outward trappings of Gandhism than to the essence of it.” He further quoted Harold Laski's 'Liberty in the Modern State' to argue that prohibition was against individual liberty.
Another member from the Adivasi community strongly opposed alcohol ban. He argued that for Adivasi, consumption of rice beer has religious significance. This prohibition amendment, he believed was a back doorway to affect religious rights.
In light of the heated debate on the issue of prohibition, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee reminded that the article was a part of the Directives Principles of the State Policy: non-binding principles that may be enforced by the States in future. In response to the Adivasi religious objection, he noted that the Constitution, as per the Sixth Schedule, provides guarantees to tribal areas: any law cannot be enforced without consulting the District and Regional Boards.