December 11, 2018

Govt admits excesses in liquor law

Patna: After almost 1.5 lakh arrests under the anti-liquor laws, the Nitish Kumar government has conceded that there was a need for making the “punishment” proportionate to the crime.

Copies of the proposed amendment of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise (Amendment) Bill, 2018, were distributed among lawmakers on Friday, the opening day of the monsoon session of the legislature.

The legislation, by way of explaining the reasons for the amendment, states that the changes were done “in order to stop misuse of provisions of the law against the innocent and bring the punishment in proportion to the crime”. It stresses that the amendments were carried out after consultations with a cross-section of the society.

The government’s admission is in sharp contrast to its stand when the anti-liquor law was enforced with Nitish then brushing aside charges that the Act was “draconian”.

There are 16 amendments proposed in the law which was framed in 2016.

Relief has been provided to first time offenders: the penalty now will be a Rs 50,000 fine or three months’ jail, compared to 10 years’ jail under the existing law.

Now people caught consuming liquor may get bail from the police station.

Those caught consuming liquor for the second time will have to cough up a Rs 1 lakh fine or face one year in jail. While the seizure of property of persons caught consuming liquor has been withdrawn, there is no relief for persons whose house or vehicles have been used to stock liquor.

The amended law seekslife imprisonment or capital punishment against persons who mix intoxicants in liquor which leads to the death of consumers.

It has, however, withdrawn provisions for imposing community fines and externing a person from the district.

The “relief” given has not satisfied law makers. The RJD has made it clear that it will demand that all those who have been jailed should first be released and reasons for illegal liquor trade should be identified.

Even NDA legislators feel that the government should have been more liberal.

“The Rs 50,000 fine may be ok for the rich but what about the ones who are poor and cannot afford it. It will only encourage the perception that it is the only the downtrodden who are arrested,” said a JDU MLA, stressing that the government should have allowed restricted consumption of liquor as in Gujarat.

He added that giving the police power to impose a fine will lead to rampant corruption in the force.

In April this year, the government went on record to concede that around 1.29 lakh persons had been arrested under the anti-liquor law ever since it was imposed in 2016. The Nitish government has been under attack from the Opposition who allege that Dalits and people belonging to the extremely backward castes were the worst hit.

The chief minister’s repeated assertion that anti-liquor laws have benefited women has not resulted in better electoral results for the JDU.

Courtesy: The Telegraph

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