Empty bottles of liquor were found in the premises of legislature in dry Bihar on Tuesday, in a fresh embarrassment to the Nitish Kumar government, which has been drawing flak over recent hooch tragedies that have claimed more than 40 lives. The bottles were found under a tree in the area earmarked as parking lot for two-wheelers. “This is outrageous. The spot is less than 100 metres away from the chief minister’s chamber," Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Yadav fumed upon inspecting the site.
“Only yesterday the chief minister presided over a farce wherein NDA legislators took the pledge, inside the central hall here, against liquor consumption. Within 24 hours, liquor bottles have been found in the same premises," he said. When asked if he favoured a repeal of the prohibition law, which his father Lalu Prasad claims to have been opposed to, Yadav said, “We are in favour of complete ‘nashabandi’ (non-consumption of intoxicants)." Upon being pointed out that the ruling NDA has been accusing RJD leaders of involvement in illicit liquor trade, he remarked sarcastically, “If they come out with the theory that we had planted the bottles in the premises, we will not be surprised." When the assembly resumed business after the lunch hour, the opposition leaders raised slogans, demanding a statement from the “chief minister or the home minister".
Chief Minister Kumar, who also holds the Home portfolio, informed the House that serious note has been taken of the incident and those responsible for the lapse would face stern punishment. “I will ask the chief secretary and the DGP to look into this matter of serious concern," said Kumar.
In response, Yadav said, “Please ensure that lower-level officials are not made scapegoats and the big fish do not go unpunished." The sale and consumption of alcohol were completely banned in Bihar in April, 2016. The drastic move followed a promise made by Kumar to women of the state during the assembly elections of 2015, which his JD(U) had fought in alliance with RJD and Congress. However, bootlegging has been thriving in the state since then and opposition leaders claim that while the poor often end up being punished for flouting prohibition, those with resources get liquor delivered to their homes.
Last month, more than 40 people had died in West Champaran, Gopalganj, Muzaffarpur and Samastipur districts after consuming spurious liquor. A review meeting was subsequently held by the chief minister where police officials were warned of severe punishment if they were found to be lax in implementing prohibition.
This direction led to instances of high-handed behaviour by police personnel who have rounded up professionals coming from outside and consuming liquor unmindful of the law here, and conducted searches at wedding venues, triggering a public outcry.