New Delhi: When the knock comes, those who love high spirits should check the liquor cabinet first. Not to drown their sorrows but to count the bottles.
Thanks to the squabble between the Centre and Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi and the rest of the world have come to know of an excise rule in the state that makes it an offence if an individual "possesses" more than 9 litres of liquor.
Which means, you cannot stock more than nine 1-litre bottles at a time in your home if you stay in Delhi unless, of course, you convert others in your family into drinkers or at least declare to the outside world that they do take a swig once in a while.
The law came to light because Delhi police, probably in their eagerness to please their masters at the Centre, drew up an FIR against Rajendra Kumar, chief minister Kejriwal's principal secretary raided by the CBI, after the searchers found 14 bottles of liquor at his Friends Colony home.
Fourteen 750-ml bottles mean Kumar is above the limit by one and a half litres.
Wait a minute. Rajendra's wife also stays at his home. The rule says an "individual" is entitled to store 9 litres of liquor.
Whether Rajendra's wife drinks or not is her personal decision. If she is also counted, the quota will jump to 18 litres and the case could fall flat.
Evidently, the police also do not seem too familiar with the rule, which, if applied in letter and spirit, might land most of Delhi's movers and shakers behind bars. Yes, the punishment for violation is three years in jail and Rs 1 lakh as fine.
For the uninitiated, here's what the Delhi Excise Rules of 2010 say under the head "maximum limit for retail sale and individual (aged 25 and above) possession of liquor":
• Indian liquor and foreign liquor (whisky, rum, gin, vodka and brandy) except wine, liqueur, beer, cider and alcopop (flavoured alcoholic beverages): 9 litres.
• Wine, beer, liqueur, cider and alcopop: 18 litres
• Indian liquor or foreign liquor: One litre while entering Delhi from other states
• Foreign liquor: 2 litres while entering Delhi from other countries.
Exemptions will be allowed on the payment of a fee.
The rule also means that if a visitor from Calcutta enters Delhi with two bottles of liquor, he or she can be prosecuted. But the rule has been kind to duty-free shoppers: while entering the capital from other countries, two bottles (the duty-free quota) will be allowed.
In Bengal, the excise rules do not specify such a limit. But when this newspaper asked an excise official, he displayed remarkable presence of mind and cited Section 5 of the Bengal excise act.
The section specifies the "limits of retail sale of intoxicants in the different localities of West Bengal". For foreign liquor, the limit is 18 litres - double that in Delhi.
The Bengal law says "limits of retail sale", not possession. But the official, in the true spirit in which such laws are crafted, insisted that if the department was tipped off that an individual is stocking more than 18 litres, it could take action.
But Mumbai takes the cake - or cognac, in this case.
In Maharashtra, according to the law, a permit is mandatory to purchase, possess or even consume liquor. There, a person is allowed to buy two bottles of alcohol every week.
If you are serving liquor at a party with a permit, every person who attends the party needs a permit to drink. The Bombay Prohibition Act empowers the police to arrest anyone for consuming or buying alcohol in a restaurant or a store without the permit.
If convicted, punishment ranges from three months to five years in prison. If you're found in possession of or transporting any liquor without a permit, you will burn a hole as deep as Rs 50,000 and/or be locked away for up to five years.
A person aged above 25 can apply for a permit from the collector, the superintendent of excise or any officer authorised by the Maharashtra government. A lifetime permit costs Rs 1,000, a one-year permit Rs 100 and one-day permit Rs 5 (country liquor Rs 2).
Do Mumbaikars really take the permit? Ha, ha.
A Delhi excise official said the department rarely enforced the 9-litre rule. "The figure is negligible and by no means alarming," he said. But he added that if someone tipped off the department, it had to be seen as taking action.
Last heard, even Delhi police were thinking of quashing the bottle FIR against Rajendra.
Why have such laws?
Good question. India loves laws (which is not the same as law-abiding).
Over 900 laws deemed obsolete are awaiting parliamentary approval for burial. Around 120 have been repealed since the Narendra Modi government took over.
India is in august company. One of the British laws set for last rites in London next year is the India Steam Ship Company Act of 1838, which has been in force for 177 years.
Additional reporting by Samyabrata Ray Goswami, Pinak Ghosh and R. Balaji
The Telegraph, Kolkata