Over two years after imposing a total ban on consumption, possession or sale of any type of alcohol in Bihar, the state government has introduced some amendments to the law termed as “draconian” by many, to prevent its misuse. For two years, chief minister Nitish Kumar had faced immense pressure from several quarters to neutralise some of the harsh provisions of the Bihar Liquor Prohibition and Excise Act 2016. On Monday, the Bihar assembly passed The Bihar Prohibition and Excise (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which is basically a watered down version of the previous law, amid walkout by the opposition.
The amendment Bill says changes have been proposed “in order to stop misuse of provisions of the law against the innocent and bring the punishment in proportion to the crime”. With the passage of the Bill, as many as 16 provisions of the 2016 will stand amended following the official notification.
The changes to be effected by The Bihar Prohibition and Excise (Amendment) Bill, 2018 include:
– A provision to allow people caught consuming alcohol to get bail at the police station itself.
– No jail for first-time offenders. They would be released after paying a penalty of Rs 50,000. If an offender fails to pay the penalty, he would have to spend three months in jail, unlike the 10-year jail as per the previous law.
– The first offence under the Bihar liquor will no longer be a non-bailable offence.
– If someone is caught consuming alcohol for the second time, he will have to pay Rs 1 lakh or spend a year in jail.
– The 2016 law provided for the seizure of property of people caught consuming alcohol. This has been ended in the amended law. However, there is no relief for those caught stocking liquor in their premises or vehicle.
– The amended law has ended the provisions for imposing community fines and externing the offenders from the district.
– Also, if someone is found consuming alcohol inside a home, all family members will not face arrest, as required by the 2016 law.
– If someone is found guilty of manufacturing or sale of liquor for the first time, he will will face imprisonment upto two years. The repeat offenders may get a minimum jail term of 10 years.
– The amendment will apply to old pending cases, including those involving convictions. Around 1.5 lakh people are said to have been arrested in connection with violation of the 2016 law. With the passage of the amendment bill, a number of them will get relief, depending on the nature of their crime.
The 2016 law was challenged by many and the matter is pending in the Supreme Court. Kumar had said last month that the liquor ban would remain in the state, but his government was planning to amend the law in the wake of complaints and misuse of the strict provisions of the excise law.
“If you ask me whether we wish to amend the prohibition law, my answer is yes. However, I cannot speak about the details which are being worked out by our legal experts. When we came up with our excise law on October 02, 2016, it was said that some of the provisions were too harsh. Thereafter we have been hearing complaints of its misuse,” PTI had then quoted Kumar as saying.
During a discussion on the amendment bill in the Bihar Assembly on Monday, Kumar said, “Liquor ban was introduced for the poor people. they were wasting a major part of their income in buying alcohol. Domestic violence was high. I did this for betterment of poor.”