Under fire over misuse of the liquor prohibition law, the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar is all set to introduce amendments to the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, in the upcoming Monsoon session of the state Assembly. On Tuesday, the state government cleared the amendments that seek to dilute some of the stringent provisions in the law which was rolled out on April 1, 2016.
“Bihar government will present an amendment law on the liquor prohibition act in the upcoming Monsoon session of the state assembly,” Cabinet Secretary Arun Kumar Singh confirmed to reporters on Tuesday.
The Indian Express reported that at least five provisions will be watered down, including those that empower the police to arrest first-time offenders, all adult members of a family and seizure of house and vehicle where liquor is found. A senior official privy to the process told the daily that amendments could also include the dilution of the penal provision in cases related to just consumption of liquor by increasing the fine.
There could also be an additional provision allowing a hefty fine for the first and subsequent offence. He, however, told the daily that the final draft is not yet ready and they are seeking legal opinion on the matter.
The IE report said that in case of a first-time offence, there is proposal in place to impose a fine of Rs 50,000 while doing away with the provision of arrest.
Also, the provision that allows police to arrest the adult members of a family including women if liquor is found inside the house, may be diluted. The official said that this enables police to arrest all adult members of a family including the women, which means there will be nobody in the family to look after kids. “This section will be made milder,” the official said.
The official said that provision to impose a fine on the entire community if liquor was found to be manufacturing in that area, could also be revisited to provide for action only against those who are “conniving with liquor sellers, manufacturers and distributors”. The current law has a provision to impose fine on the entire neighbourhood even if a few people are found violating the law.
The official noted that in at least six districts including in Patna, the offenders belonged to SC community (Mushahars and Pasis). A JD(U) leader said that the ban on sale and consumption of liquor in the state has made the government “unpopular” up to some extent among the Mahadalit castes, especially among those who used to earn their livelihood by selling country liquor. “The government has already allowed the sale of neera, fresh palm and date juice extracted in the morning,” the leader noted.
Earlier this week, CM Kumar had said that the state government has received feedback on the misuse of the law and therefore, it has decided to amend the law. He had said that the law has helped the government to crack down on liquor mafias but the misuse of the law has been a matter of concern for the government. “The objective of the proposed amendments is to ensure that people are not harassed unnecessarily,” the CM had said at an event.
The law came into force in April 2016. Kumar had promised during assembly elections that he will ban sale and consumption of liquor if voted to power for the third consecutive time. Since then, over 1.4 lakh people have been booked under the law.
The state government had earlier conducted a caste-wise survey to check how many people were jailed for violating the law. The Indian Express had in May reported that SCs, OBCs and EBCs faced the brunt of the government’s crackdown.
Under Sections 20 to 41 of the Act, storing, selling and manufacturing liquor are non-bailable offences. When asked if the government was mulling to amend some Sections to make them bailable, the official said it is unlikely. However, offenders arrested under these Sections have been getting bail from the High Court.