Safety Concerns for Women in light of Delhi’s latest Excise Policy

Have you heard about Delhi’s New Excise Policy?

Delhi’s Excise Policy for the Year 2021-22 can be accessed here.

For your context: The prime function of the Excise Department is to regulate, control and monitor possession, import, export, transport, sale and consumption of liquor and other intoxicants. The power of the State to control and regulate the trade in liquor is envisaged under entry 8, List II-State List, of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India.

As per entry 51, List II-State List, States are empowered to levy excise duty and also countervailing duty on liquor for human consumption, taking into account economic and social consideration. For such purpose, the statutory powers are discharged under the Delhi Excise Act, 2009.

Problems noticed by LQF’s Team:

We noticed two problematic provisions in the policy, concerning the safety of women in the National Capital. The provisions are as under:

5. New Policy for Hotels, Clubs and Restaurants (HCR) 

vii) That, the operational requirements of the NCR segment may be relaxed by permitting liquor service in the open spaces viz. terrace/balcony/lower area, additional dispensing counters with nominal fee, easy transfer of license, etc.

5.1 Policy initiatives for Ease of Doing Business 

ii) The bars in Hotels, Restaurants and Clubs are allowed to operate till 03:00 A.M. except those licensees which have been given license to operate round the clock service of liquor.

What seems to be the problem with these provisions?

Gender equity and safe, resilient, and inclusive cities are emphasized in the Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 11 and the New Urban Agenda

as endorsed by the United Nations. The equal rights of women to the city and public spaces are included in the concept of “safe cities,” which provides for their ability to be mobile in the city at any time of the day, as well as their freedom to move in public spaces without fear of harassment or sexual violence.

While we acknowledge that the Delhi Government is working towards ensuring women’s safety, the data on crime against women depicts a different picture. The data shared by Delhi Police shows an increase in rape, molestation, abduction, and kidnapping cases of women in the first six months of 2021, compared to 2020.

Women are particularly exposed to assault and crimes at night. Even in the most advanced economies, women are still not safe on the streets, despite the progress of the world. New Delhi ranks 53rd out of 60 c0untries on the Safest Cities Index 2019. The ranking paints a dismal picture of the safety of the capital.

The new Excise Policy of Delhi, which permits hotels, clubs, etc., to offer liquor till 3 a.m., including open spaces and lowering the drinking age in the city, comes with the challenge of ensuring women’s safety at night. Women’s safety involves safe spaces. Public Space is not gender-neutral. ‘Spaces’ that cause fear restrict movement, thereby altering any community’s use of the said Space. Social exclusion is associated with a lack of mobility and comfort. On the other hand, a safe space can also give a sense of security and comfort, as well as prevent violence. The policy comes with the contingency to ensure women’s safety at pubs, clubs, the immediate surroundings, taxis, and other spaces of the night time economy. 

Constitutional Provisions & Breaches 

The enactment of the new excise policy with concomitant perturbation over women’s safety also hurls harm to specific constitutional mandates that uphold gender equality. Women have been granted equality and the capacity to clamor for the rollout of measures for positive discrimination in their favor. Article 16 provides equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. However, initiating reforms that evoke threat to women’s safety on the roads, thereby restricting their movement, discouraging them from taking up work during the night, and accounting for their low representation in the labor force, amounts to following this law in letter, subverting it in spirit. Any policy that directly or indirectly causes a dip in the demand and supply of women workers by deflating women’s readiness to work or organizations’ willingness to hire females manifests a disregard for the principle of equal opportunity enshrined in our constitution. 

Under Article 42, the State is directed to make provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work for women. However, a meager percentage of women working during night shifts reflects their disadvantaged State and the explicit failure on the part of the government to ensure equal rights for women, let alone securing humane conditions of work for them, and the new excise policy is an open violation of the said Article. 

Besides, since the increased consumption of liquor brought about by the relaxed norms shall obstruct women’s movement, the policy is an infringement of women’s personal liberty conferred on them by Article 21

Article 14 of our constitution embodies equality before the law for women. In addition, Article 15(3) capacitates the State to make special provisions for safeguarding the interests of women and children and nullifying the economic, educational, and political disadvantages faced by them. Moreover, a policy that propagates the consumption of liquor and projects Delhi as the country’s liquor capital is in defiance of Article 47 that enforces the duty of the State to bring about the prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs. Therefore, it becomes imperative for the government to revisit certain facets of the new excise policy that deprive women of their constitutional privileges or enact new social security norms for women.

What are we doing in this regard?

As a part of our legal & policy advocacy efforts, we reached out to the government stakeholders to highlight our concerns regarding the policy, and provided them with certain important recommendations in the matter. It is important that the State, while working on devising and implementing any public policy, takes into consideration the entire population’s interests and doesn’t discriminate against or leave out any particular group of citizens.

Our Recommendations in the matter:

The importance of numerous characteristics such as lighting, walk path, visibility, & public transportation, in determining a woman’s safety experience in public settings is highlighted in the study concluded in Delhi by Safetipin in 2018-2019. Safetipin conducted safety audits at metro stations, bus stops, public toilets, public parks, schools, universities, parking lots, cinema halls, tourist places, and liquor stores across the three Municipal Corporations in Delhi. As Justices AS Oka and AK Menon of Bombay High Court stated in a PIL hearing on women safety in 2015 that the State could not be prevented from taking a policy decision, and if a policy is to allow bars and restaurants to open 24/7, then the government needs to satisfy that the safety of women is taken into consideration. Taking a cue from this, the Delhi Government should study the impact of the policy on women, conduct safety audits and guarantee adequate measures for women’s safety. 

The perception of Delhi as an intimidating city by women would change when women would feel safe in both secluded and crowded places during the day and night. A comprehensive set of interventions and programs such as better urban design and planning, more provision of services, strict policing and law enforcement, increased community involvement, better implementation of existing policies, and awareness building for men, women, and youth are needed to address the challenges of women’s safety and exclusion which comes with this policy. 

Important Documents:

LQF’s Letter to the government stakeholders can be accessed here.

Delhi’s Excise Policy, 2021-22 can be accessed here.

How can you support our work?

You can support our advocacy efforts by either donating through this link, or by becoming a member at LQF. You can find details about our Membership Plans here.