Underage drinking has assumed fearful proportions in Delhi with more and more teenagers taking to the bottle. "I am Kartik, 19. I like to party, listen to music, and of course, boozing," said a teenager. Favourite drink? "Whiskey on the rocks." "I am 16. I love partying at the bar. Age check? Never. You pay two-three grands and enter. It’s that easy," said another. Underage drinking is so common that even pub owners don’t know that one has to be at least 25 years old to enter a bar."We only let the legal age in, you know, 22 to 23," said Ranvir Singh, Corporate Manager, Elevate.
Delhi’s worst kept secret is that underage bar crawlers are the biggest customers. "No liquor is to be served to people below 25, else the license is cancelled," said AK Walia, Excise Minister. There is a handful of bars which try to ensure that IDs are checked. "We always ask people to show their I-cards such as passport or driving license at the door. "But it’s not possible when a thousand people are involved," said Gaurav Bakaya, Corporate Manager, Climax.It is upon the state government to fix legal age limits for drinking. In Maharashtra, the limit is 21 and in Karnataka, 18.
The Delhi government is now planning to lower the drinking age limit. "We are seeking a reduction in the age limit to 18," said Walia. Especially popular with the underage set are bars in Noida and Gurgaon, where drinks are cheaper and often served till late at night. The drunken youngsters then make the long drive back to Delhi. The police claim they conduct regular checks at night to keep a tab on all drivers, young and old. "There are two ways of doing alcohol tests – Breathalyzer and blood test. The legal alcohol limit in blood is 30 cc," said Qamar Ahmed, Joint Commissioner, Traffic, Delhi Police.
Bar owners, however, wash their hands clean of any complicity. "We are entertainment providers. We can’t enforce drinking limits. It’s the police’s job," said Rummy Sharma, Corporate Manager, Climax.
As Delhi debates lowering the drinking age, what can work is popularizing safety measures like designated drivers, where one person chooses not to drink at all and is in charge of driving friends home from a bar