Year Before General Elections, Nitish Kumar Waters Down Anti-Liquor Law
The bunch of changes approved by the cabinet include making consumption of liquor a non-bailable offence and doing away with mandatory jail times for first-time offenders.
News18 Creative by Mir Suhail/News18.com)
Patna: The Bihar Cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Wednesday gave its nod to softening or removing some of the most stringent provisions of the tough prohibition law in the state as the government looks to address concerns that officials were abusing the 2016 Act.
The bunch of changes approved by the cabinet include making consumption of liquor a non-bailable offence and doing away with mandatory jail times for first-time offenders, in effect extensively diluting the tough law that was a key poll promise of the Janata Dal (United).
The changes come nearly a month after Nitish Kumar accepted that he was holding consultations with top lawyer Gopal Subramaniam to address complaints of its misuse.
His government had faced a lot of criticism from the opposition and civil rights groups, who had contended that most people arrested under this law were among Bihar's poorest, those who were not able to bribe their way out of the police case.
There have also been complaints that the police and excise department invoke the law to frame innocents. In fact, “daaru Aur baloo Nitish ko le doobega (liquor and sand will sink Nitish)” had become a common saying. Nitish had earlier did a U-turn on his sand mining policy and has now diluted the prohibition law.
The opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress and Hindustani Awam Morcha had mounted pressure on the government terming the provisions of the existing law as draconian. Dalit leaders from the opposition camp had put forth a data claiming 90 percent of arrested persons under the law belong to poor community and demanded amendment in the law.
But Nitish had till now braved all criticism and said “he was willing to face all the criticism and consequences of my actions.”
The amendments will be ratified in the next session of the state assembly that starts July 20.
Under the present law, consumption, transportation, trade and possession of liquor was a non-bailable offence punishable by up to ten years of imprisonment.
In total, the amendment has removed eight stringent provisions, including attachment of house or vehicle for possessing liquor, collective fine on entire village if liquor is found from a public place and making entire family responsible if any of the members was found consuming liquor in the house.
According to the new rules, a first-time offender will be fined Rs 50,000 or sentenced to three months in jail in case of non-payment of the fine. If liquor is found from the house or place and the owner proves that he was not aware about it then no action would be taken against him.
However, the amendment has introduced stricter provisions for marketing and selling of spurious liquor. If consumption of spurious liquor causes death of one or more persons, then the seller can get the death penalty.
According to the records, as many as 1,41,861 people have been arrested under the stringent prohibition law since April 2016 in the State. Over 8,000 are in jail.
The police and excise department officials have conducted 7,62, 416 raids while 1,17, 283 cases have been lodged. Total 20.47 lakh litres of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and 9.25 lakh litres of country-made liquor have been seized.
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