PATNA: Battling a flood of criticism against the controversial total prohibition law he implemented in Bihar seven months ago, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday hinted at amendments to the law’s draconian penal provisions after listening to the views of 37 people in the first-ever dialogue on the issue.
“The government is moving in a logical way on this (law’s implementation)... There is no law that cannot be amended,” said Kumar after the ‘lok samvad’ (public dialogue) programme at the secretariat. Sources said Kumar’s statement, which indicated a change of stance on the need for stringent penal provisions, came after many participants voiced their displeasure about such “too harsh” measures. Kumar is likely to convene an all-party meeting on the prohibition issue on November 22, said sources close to him.
The brainstorming session followed the Bihar government’s call for suggestions and feedback from the public on the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 between November 1 and 12. After receiving over 1,100 responses from across the state, the government invited 50 responders for the programme, but 37 attended.
Significantly, most participants spoke about the collusion of police in letting illegal liquor sales continue clandestinely across the state. The CM is learnt to have taken a serious note of this point. Many participants spoke against draconian provisions in the law like the arrest of all adult members of a family if a liquor bottle is found in their house and imposition of fine on an entire village if liquor is found in any house there, said sources. The penal provisions of the law were described by many participants as too harsh and akin to those for rape and murder, they added.
“In-depth discussions were held on salient features and provisions of the state’s prohibition policy. Opinions with a wide variety were received and discussed. They have been recorded. The (excise) department would study those opinions,” said home secretary Amir Subhani.
The participants, he said, were from diverse social and vocational sections and included lawyers, media professionals, retired senior officials, Indian Medical Association officials and functionaries of Indian Cancer Awareness Society.
Deputy chief minister Tejaswi Yadav said the government would consider all the diverse views received at the programme. “It was a very good opportunity for the people to air their considered views on the prohibition law. All these views will be considered soon,” he added.
A discordant clink
Despite Bihar CM Nitish Kumar on Monday indicating a softening of stance on draconian measures in the controversial prohibition law, the state’s excise and prohibition minister Abdul Jalil Mastan said the present law needs to be strengthened further. “Most participants in the public dialogue also expressed this opinion. There is a need to increase the minimum jail term to more than 10 years,” said Mastan, an MLA from ruling ally Congress, in what appears to be an instance of inadequate coherence in Kumar’s cabinet.