The Bihar cabinet has approved amendments to the state's stringent prohibition law, proposed a reduction in the quantum of sentence for those held guilty.
Principal Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat Department, Arun Kumar Singh, said that at a meeting of the state cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a nod was given for the proposed amendments to be tabled in the Monsoon Session of the state legislature scheduled later this month.
Although he expressed his inability to divulge the contents of the proposed amendment bill, the state's advocate general Lalit Kishor later told a news channel, "The proposed amendments include a reduction in the quantum of punishment awarded to those involved in sale and manufacture of liquor as well as those consuming alcohol, including first time offenders."
What could change in the law
While the exact provisions of the law which will be watered down will be known only once the proposed amendments are introduced, a report in The Indian Express said at least five provisions under the law could be watered down.
Chief among these is a provision that called for the imposition of fines on the entire community if liquor was found to be manufactured in a particular area. "Action could be taken against only those who are conniving with liquor sellers, manufacturers and distributors, and not the entire neighbourhood as under the existing provisions," the official told the newspaper.
Also, the owner and occupant of a property where liquor was seized were both liable to be punished. However, the amendments propose shifting the onus primarily on the occupant, a PTI report said. "Once these amendments come into force, these will be applicable to new as well as pending cases. In other words, those arrested under the old, stringent law may also avail of the relief granted under the amendments."
The official told The Indian Express the amendments are still being worked out, and the state government is also seeking expert legal opinion.
A JD(U) leader added that the government was forced to act on the issue after realising that it was becoming extremely unpopular with some Mahadalit communities. "... especially those who used to earn their living by selling country liquor and toddy. The government has already allowed sale of neera, fresh palm and date juice extracted in the morning," a JD(U) leader was quoted as saying.
Advertisements under the scanner
The law also had harsh penalties in store for the broadcast or publication of advertisements regarding alcoholic products. "Whoever prints, publishes or gives an advertisement directly or indirectly in any media, including films & television, or any social platform soliciting the use of any liquor or intoxicant, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to five years or with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees, or with both," the Act had said.
The liquor ban was introduced in Bihar by the Nitish Kumar government in April 2016. The radical step has cost the state exchequer about Rs 5,000 crore annually in keeping with the promise Nitish had made to women voters during the Assembly polls in 2015.
The prohibition law has, however, been termed as "draconian" by Opposition parties. The chief minister himself has of late been admitting that there were complaints of misuse of its stringent provisions and assured suitable amendments would be brought in.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Jul 12, 2018 15:42 PM