PATNA: Twenty-five months after enforcing a ban on consumption, sale and manufacture of alcoholic drinks in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is now willing to ease the draconian provisions of the law that has seen over 1.41 lakh people arrested so far. The likely amendments, about which Kumar dropped hints for the first time recently, are seen as a step to prevent the Opposition RJD from drawing electoral mileage out of the rising public anger around the prohibition regime. RJD leaders, having attacked the prohibition law as a “handy tool to harass the innocent and help police make money”, have promised that its harsher provisions would be relaxed once the party returns to power in Bihar.
With people from low socio-economic sections forming the bulk of those arrested under the prohibition law, the Opposition has accused Nitish government of targeting the poor and Dalits. Besides, instances of police excesses in the name of enforcement, coupled with the authorities’ failure to contain the influx of liquor from neighbouring states and arrest the smugglers, have given more teeth to the Opposition and critics of the prohibition regime.
It was in response to appeals from Bihar’s rural women that Nitish had promised a prohibition law in the run-up to the 2015 Assembly polls. Five months after returning to power, he enacted the law and implemented total prohibition. While this brought about perceptible improvements in people’s lives, alleged abuse of the law gave rise to discontent.
“I have been attentive to the people’s grievances (on prohibition). I am reviewing every aspect of the prohibition law, and we are deliberating on it… Whatever amendments are required, will be made,” said Kumar at a convention of his party’s youth wing in Patna.Despite the strict law, it is an open secret in Bihar that liquor is available to whoever wants it and is ready to pay a price much higher than the MRP. In March, the government had admitted that thousands of litres of liquor flowed into the state in 2017.
“About 6.52 lakh raids have been conducted by police and excise officials between April 1, 2016, and March 6, 2018, in which 1.22 lakh people have been arrested… Altogether, 16.4 lakh litres of Indian-made foreign liquor and about 12.4 lakh litres of various types of country liquor have been seized so far,” said prohibition and excise minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav in the Assembly. Over 1.17 lakh cases have been lodged against offenders, said officials.While the government is tight-lipped about the proposed amendments, sources said most offences under the prohibition law could be made bailable unless the suspect is a repeat offender.