On 30 September, when the Patna High Court quashed Bihar government's Prohibition Law and termed it illegal, it was considered to be a setback for the Nitish Kumar government. Undeterred by the high court order, on 2 October the Bihar government came out with the draconian Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 with stricter provisions.
The Bihar government also moved Supreme Court on Monday against the Patna HC order on liquor ban and the matter will come up for hearing on Friday.
#FLASH: Bihar Govt moves Supreme Court against Patna HC's order on Liquor Ban in Bihar, matter to be heard on October 7th
— ANI (@ANI_news) October 3, 2016
The Bihar chief minister rode the Assembly election in 2015 on the promise of total prohibition. In fact, he has been appealing to other BJP-ruled states to implement prohibition and projecting it as some of sort of social reform. After Gujarat, Manipur and Nagaland, the Bihar government had announced a complete ban on all kinds of liquor in the state.
After the landslide victory in Bihar Assembly election last year, RJD and its alliance partner JD(U) have been trying to project Nitish as a national alternative leader to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many of his party workers believe that Nitish has the "image, ability and diligence" to lead a non-BJP front in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
For 'Sushashan Babu', as Nitish is popularly called, implementation of total prohibition in Bihar could be his ticket to Delhi. The Bihar government is already flaunting the success of liquor ban prior to the HC order and has claimed that crime rates have gone down since its implementation. A party worker told The Economic Times that Nitish Kumar could turn prohibition into a national agenda before the 2019 LS polls and "his anti-liquor stand may come in handy".
What's the new law?
Under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, sale and consumption of alcohol, including Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL), as well spiced and domestic liquor are banned. Apart from retaining some of the provisions of the previous, under the new law, tipplers could land in jail for upto seven years and could face a fine of Rs one lakh to Rs 10 lakh.
The Chief Minister said, "it is our duty to go ahead with the liquor ban" and added that the new legislation aims to plug the holes in the previous Act.
If the previous law was considered draconian, under the new Act, all adult members of a family would be arrested if liquor is found stored in any household with the presumption that they were aware of the same. According to The Indian Express, all sections under the Act are unbailable and the cases will be tried in special courts. It also has a provision under which people who allow their premises to be used for a congregation where liquor is served and brawls take place will be imprisoned for a period of 10 years which can be extended to life term.
Collective fine would be slapped on villages and urban clusters in case of habitual violation of the Prohibition Law. The new law also has provision for prosecution of an excise or police officer for making vexatious search, seizure, detention or arrest and such officers can face jail upto three years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh, under the Act.
According to police records, over 16,000 people have been arrested for violation of the liquor ban in the last six months and government officials have seized over 100,000 litres of illegal liquor. While the liquor ban got a thumbs up from women in Bihar, with it also came the alcohol vigilantes and moral policing. The Nitish Kumar government also roped in more than 40 lakh JD(U) workers to counter "falsehood" spread against prohibition by some "affected intellectuals deprived of quota of 1-2 pegs."
In September, a man in Bihar's Saran district was tied to a tried and brutally assaulted for being in possession five litres of illegal country made liquor, reported India Today. The report added that the incident was recorded by members of a local vigilante group Navyuvak Sangh, while the police thrashed him. With harsher laws, the Nitish Kumar government will have the tough task of reining in these vigilantes to retain the moniker of ' Sushashan Babu.'
A legal expert was quoted by The Indian Express as saying that "at least half-a-dozen provisions can be challenged in court" and added that "it contravenes the fundamental rights to liberty and freedom".
Meanwhile, the BJP, on Sunday, asked Nitish to reconsider the government's decision to implement the new liquor law and termed the new provisions 'anti-people' and not practical.
With inputs from agencies