‘Pub’ in Republic- Interesting Court Room Exchanges

Part IV of the Constitution of India contains the Chapter on Directive Principles of State Policy (“DPSP”). The Part casts a non-binding obligation on the government, to promote and achieve certain objectives mentioned therein. The debate and furore over protection of cattle, implementation of the Uniform Civil Code and recognizing labour rights, all have their genesis in Part IV.

Interestingly, Article 47 of the Chapter also obligates the government to prohibit consumption of intoxicating drinks/liquor. This particular principle has given India not only various prohibition laws enacted in furtherance but also, some interesting court room humour. In the present post, I shall discuss some interesting court room stories that transpired, when the Bar and Bench debated upon issues of intoxicating drinks.

The first story dates back to the late 19th century and involves Sir Rashbehary Ghose, an eminent advocate and doyen of the Calcutta Bar. Ghose was appearing in a case before the District Judge, who was infamous for smoking on the Bench. All efforts of the Bar, to point out the inappropriateness of such a conduct had failed. Finally, it fell upon Ghose, the Bar’s leader to intervene. During a hearing, Ghose carried a bottle of liquor with him to Court. When the Judge lit his cigarette, Ghose poured a drink into the glass. Taken aback, the Judge asked him ‘What are you doing Sir Rashbehary?’, to which he responded ‘And what is Your Honour doing?’. Realizing his mistake, the Judge threw the cigarette and said ‘out it goes’ to which Ghose responded ‘In it goes’ and consumed the drink.

The most famous court room exchange concerning intoxicating drinks involves legendary names like Justice Chagla, Shri Motilal Setalvad and the ever-jovial Shri CK Daphtary. In fact, it is said of Daphtary that there is hardly a courtroom in the Supreme Court and some High Courts which has no story to narrate of a witty and lively remark made by him. In 1949, the Morarji Desai led Bombay government passed the Bombay Prohibition Act which enforced prohibitions on liquor. The Act was challenged before a Bench of Chief Justice Chagla, Justice Tendolkar and Justice Gajendragadkar at the Bombay High Court. As Daphtary was the state’s Advocate General it fell upon him to defend the government. Interestingly, Daphtary himself enjoyed his drinks and had no heart in defending the law.

The Act was upheld but certain provisions were struck down. An appeal was filed before the Supreme Court and Attorney General for India MC Setalvad appeared for the state of Bombay. Setalvad was assisted by Daphtary. The case concerned alcoholic drinks and ‘pegs’ whereas Setalvad was a teetotaller. During the arguments, Justice Sastri asked Setalvad what was a ‘peg’ and ‘liqueurs’, to which Setalvad responded that Daphtary was better equipped with these matters and would respond to the Judge’s question. Daphtary rose and answered all the questions, amidst laughter in the court room. (State of Bombay v.  F.N. Balsara, AIR 1951 SC 318).

In the backdrop, during a Bar function to celebrate India’s First Republic Day, Daphtary had humorously remarked that our republic without a pub was only a relic. It is believed this was in presence of Morarji Desai, who had strong views on prohibition. Another senior lawyer, Shri Ram Jethmalani had responded to Desai’s call for prohibition on consumption of liquor by stating, ‘Morarji Bhai I drink alcohol only occasionally, but now I will drink it regularly to keep my right to drink alive’. A couple of years later, when Morarji Desai resigned as the Prime Minister due to lack of support, Jethmalani stated, ‘Morarji Bhai have you realised that all those people who betrayed you were teetotallers.’

Even in the year 2018 eminent lawyer Harish Salve and Shri Tushar Mehta (then Additional Solicitor General) had an interesting exchange during the hearings concerning the release of the movie Padmaavat. Salve was attempting to argue that artists should be allowed to distort history, to which Mehta responded that one can’t do that, as Mahatma Gandhi can’t be shown sipping whiskey. Salve quickly responded, by stating that showing Gandhi sipping whiskey wouldn’t be distorting history.

It was common for the Bar & Bench to share a laugh in the earlier times. Our nation’s legal history is replete with examples where at times Judges were schooled by senior lawyers and vice versa. Such exchanges were taken in the right spirit and promoted the harmony between the two bodies. While the Directive Principle under Article 47 might not have given us complete prohibition on liquor, it definitely gave us some laughs in form of the court room exchanges that ensued.  

[I do not wish to offend any member of the legal community with this post]

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