It is rather brazen of the Bihar government to have brought back the alcohol ban in the state—with provisions for much harsher punishments—after the Patna High Court had struck down the previous legislation mandating the ban as ultra vires of the Constitution, terming its punishment provisions as “draconian”. Even though the two-judge bench was split on whether the right to consume alcohol was an individual’s fundamental right—though this was not the question of the clutch of writ petitions the court was hearing on the matter—it ruled that the Section 19(4) of the Bihar Excise Act, 1915, an amendment passed by the state legislatures on March 31 that provided for total prohibition, was ultra vires and unenforceable.
The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act 2016, notified on October 2, speaks of harsh jail terms and hefty fines for not only consumption but also for possession and knowledge of possession—in fact, it says a person allowing another to violate any provision in his premises/ property (including animal) he owns will be treated as having committed the said offence himself, with all commensurate punishments applicable. It also criminalises transport of alcohol through the state as it does “direct or indirect” advertising of alcoholic products/consumption across media. Neither is an individual or a commercial entity allowed to hold alcohol for the consumption of another. The ban is likely to be challenged in court, especially given there is difference in judicial opinion on whether it constitutes a violation of an individual’s fundamental right while any opposition to it also clashes with the Directive Principles of State Policy. But for now, instead of being “once bitten, twice shy”, Bihar seems to be “if at first you fail, try harder”.