Draft amendments to Bihar liquor law unlikely to benefit those most in need

Patna (Bihar): After strong criticism from many circles on the alcohol ban in Bihar, the government of Nitish Kumar decided to make some amendments to the law.

According to state government officials, one of the amendments is to release drinkers without any FIR against them, after paying a fine. Only if they don’t pay the fine will they be prosecuted by the police and go to jail.

The proposed amendments provide for a section relating to “non-combination of offences”. Instead, it will introduce a penalty, which can be notified by the state government, if someone is found drunk at home or outside. Failure to pay the penalty carries a simple jail term of one month, but repeat offense can lead to an additional penalty or jail time or both, says a Hindustan time report.

The move, according to the government, will help minimize the bail-related cases that have piled up in the courts of Bihar.

According to the amendments, seized vehicles carrying alcohol will be released and all alcohol-related cases will be tried in special courts.

The proposed amendments are the result of recent critical remarks by India’s Chief Justice. On December 1, the Supreme Court said that the prohibition law had affected the functioning of the high court in Patna, as the court is busy granting bail to those arrested under the prohibition law and trials are under way. ongoing in other cases.

The Bihar government had filed a petition in the Supreme Court against granting bail to those arrested under the Prohibition Act. During the hearing of this petition, Chief Justice NV Ramana said, “Do you know what impact this prohibition law has had on the High Court of Bihar? It takes up to a year for the case to be registered in court. All courts are busy deciding bailable cases.

Moreover, in a public program, Justice Ramana called the Bihar government’s prohibition law a model of myopia. He had said: “The courts of the country are full of cases. As a result, there is a lack of foresight in the development of such a law. For example, due to the introduction of Prohibition Act in Bihar, applications for bail have flooded in the High Court. As a result, the processing of a simple request for release on bail takes a year.

Who will benefit from the amendment?

The proposed amendment states that drinkers will be released upon payment of a fine. This means that this amendment will likely only benefit the wealthy, while the poor and marginalized will continue to languish in jail – as is Vinod Ram.

Ram was arrested for allegedly causing havoc on the road after drinking alcohol on April 15 last year by Patna police. He was put behind bars. He was released on bail in November, after spending nearly six months in jail. But although he was released on bail, he is still in jail as he has no property worth Rs 20,000 to post as collateral.

Similarly, Ashok Paswan was released on bail on November 17 last year, but he is still in jail as he has no property worth Rs 20,000 to pledge.

He was arrested on July 30 by Naubatpur police in Patna for misbehaving outside a police station. The police claimed he was drunk.

Praveen Kumar, director of the LAW Foundation (Patna), which works with prisoners from low socio-economic backgrounds, said Thread, “The proposed fine is irrelevant. Many offenders are landless or from low socio-economic backgrounds; they barely have money to meet the expenses. If an amount of an unreasonable nature is imposed, how will they be able to pay it?

“The proposed amendment talks about being applicable to all pending cases under the Act. In this case, if an inmate languishing in a prison reserved under this law is released on bail but is unable to provide the terms of bail due to being from a low socio-economic background, what will be recourse for him? ” He asked.

Alleged Fake Cases, Poor and Dalits Victimized

By November last year, around 40 people had died after consuming fake alcohol in four districts of Bihar.

The incidents had drawn criticism not only from opposition parties but also from the JD(U)’s alliance partner, the BJP. BJP State Chairman and MP Sanjay Jaiswal had said, “This law needs to be reviewed. Alcohol ban is a good initiative by Nitish Kumar which was done with good intentions and is also in favor of women. This law was enacted six years ago and I think its successes and failures need to be reconsidered.

But a categorical Nitish Kumar had said emphatically that there was no way to revise the law. Instead, he ordered stricter enforcement.

Soon after, he appointed IAS officer K. K. Pathak as the additional chief secretary of the Prohibition and Excise Department. When the Nitish government implemented the Prohibition Act in 2016, Pathak was the Principal Secretary of the Excise Department. Police action also intensified as soon as Pathak returned to the excise department. In November last year alone, 11,084 people were arrested under the liquor law, 78.4% more than in October.

Last year, 82,903 people were arrested in alcohol-related cases, according to Bihar Police data. Most of them belong to economically and socially backward communities.

Thread went through about 30 uploaded FIRs filed in 2021 at Baligaon Police Station of Vaishali district under Liquor Act, and found that 28 of these FIRs were against Dalits and Mahadalits. Thread contacted a few families of those arrested, who said the police arrested them and allegedly falsely slapped a section of the liquor law.

Jitendra Sahni was arrested in September 2021 and charged under sections of the Liquor Act. His wife, however, says he had nothing to do with the liquor business. Photo: special arrangement

Jitendra Sahni drives a vehicle for the Patna Municipal Corporation. Officers from Gardanibagh Police Station had raided the nearby slum of Yarpur on September 19 and found Sahni’s ID card in her room. Later, an FIR was filed against him for allegedly running an illegal liquor business.

His wife Gudiya Devi said Thread, “The police did not find any alcohol in our room. They took my husband’s identity card with them. When my husband returned, I informed him that the police had taken his ID.

The next day, Sahni went to the police station to collect his identity card, but the police arrested him and filed charges against him under the liquor law.

Thread contacted the Gardanibagh station officer, but he did not return the call.

FIR says Sahni fled when police raided the area. He also says a huge amount of alcohol was seized from a room belonging to Sahni, but his wife denies the police claims.

“We had never been in the liquor business. We don’t know what our neighbors were doing. Even the police didn’t find my husband in the room or anywhere else. Instead, they arrested him in a liquor case as he went to get his ID card. This is clearly a misuse of the liquor law,” she said.

Neeraj Kumar Singh, a lawyer practicing in Kaimur district, said Thread, “We get many cases where the defendants say they weren’t selling alcohol and no alcohol was recovered from their possession, but the police falsely entrapped them. And most of them belong to Dalit and Mahadalit communities.