Vimukta community demands parity with STs as MP’s new excise law amendments allow MP to manufacture and sell Mahua alcohol

Members of the Vimukta community in Madhya Pradesh have written a letter to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, endorsed by several prominent civil society groups, academics and activists across the country, calling for reconsideration of a recent amendment to the State Excise Act, which was passed. without discussion earlier this year.

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INOT August 2021, Madhya Pradesh Assembly passed the Madhya Pradesh Excise (Amendment) Bill. The cabinet cleared, without discussiona bill that proposed capital punishment and life imprisonment for death caused by the consumption of fake liquor, among a host of other harsh measures against the consumption of fake liquor.

The threat of fake alcohol has long plagued the state, and the amendment came as a result of seventeen tragic deaths in Mandsaur and Indore.

Death Penalty and Vimukta

The proclamation of the death penalty is problematic in many respects. By an amendment to section 49A of the Madhya Pradesh Excise Actit greatly increases the severity of the penalty by making the repeat offense of causing death by bogus alcohol, punishable by death and a fine of at least Rs. 20,000,000. But this amendment is on the point to hit the Vimukta community the hardest.

The Vimukta or denotified nomadic communities have a history plagued by prejudice.

The Vimukta or denotified nomadic communities have a history plagued by prejudice. Originally listed as “hereditary criminals” under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 by the colonial government, the Vimukta were freed from the label of the “criminal tribes” on August 31, 1952. However, during this period, the tribes went through an arduous mission of civilization by the British, when the latter monopolized and heavily taxed alcohol trade to further increase their profits. the original Madhya Pradesh Excise Act 1915 was thus created to centralize the production and trade of alcohol, and the Adivasi and Vimukta communities were excluded from the legal alcohol trade via regulation of the law and high license and deposit fees.

But the recent amendment introduced a separate category of “heritage liquor” – Mahua – a liqueur made from the mahua tree. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the state would formulate a new excise policy that would allow tribal communities to brew Mahua alcohol.

The Vimukta community is not categorized as a Scheduled Tribe (ST) in the state, even when their lifestyles and Mahua brewing practices are similar to those of the Adivasi communities.

“The government is making an excise policy under which if anyone manufactures alcohol from mahua in [the] traditional way, it will no longer be illegal,” the chief minister noted. “It will be sold in liquor stores as a ‘heritage liquor’ which would be a source of employment and income for the tribal people who make and consume it.”

He further added that false and minor cases against people from tribal communities will be withdrawn.

Yet these benefits have not been extended to the Vimukta community, as they are not categorized as Scheduled Tribes (ST) in the state, even when their lifestyles and Mahua brewing practices are similar. to those of the Adivasi communities.

“Power Drunk”

The Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project, a Bhopal-based research and litigation intervention, released a report titled “Power Drunk – A Study of Excise Policing in Madhya Pradesh’ three months ago. The project analyzed two data sets, which included 5,62,399 arrest records from twenty districts across the state and 540 randomly selected FIRs (first information reports) filed under excise law in three districts of Madhya Pradesh.

The report found that excise-related arrests accounted for one-sixth of the total number of arrests in the state and 56.35% of those arrested were from Scheduled Caste (9.87%), ST (21, 53%), other backward classes (15.64%) and Vimukta communities (6.86%); of the 562 defendants in the FIRs, these same communities collectively formed the majority of the defendants. The report also revealed that the Vimukta Kuchbandhiya community was particularly targeted in some districts and that Kuchbandhiya women were targeted more than men. He further mentioned that more than 18% of FIRs did not provide any details of the clauses under which individuals were implicated.

Members of the Vimukta community have written to the MP CM demanding parity with Adivasi communities regarding the manufacture of mahua alcohol under the state excise law. The letter further calls for the provisions of the amendment involving the death penalty in relation to excise offenses to be removed.

The report states:As mentioned above, a large proportion of criminalized individuals are from marginalized communities, police rely heavily on informant information rather than factual evidence, and private spaces in Bahujan are more likely to be seen as criminals.

The research also revealed that the due process and guidelines of the Arnesh Kumar vs Bihar State (2014) judgment were not respected. In the case, the Supreme Court had stated that for non-serious offences, arrests are not automatic and must therefore be carried out in accordance with the requirements under Section 41 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

The report found that most of the excise arrests were made under section 34(1) of the Bailable Act, under which the jail term is less than seven years, and therefore a non-serious offence. For an offense to be considered serious, it must be punishable by imprisonment for seven years or more.

Parity requirement

Members of the Vimukta communities have written a letter to the Prime Minister, expressing their demand for parity with the Adivasi communities on the issue of mahua alcohol under the law.

The letter stated that there were 51 nomadic and semi-nomadic Vimukta communities in Madhya Pradesh, whose lifestyles and customs closely resemble those of the tribal communities, and in the Kanjar and Kuchbandiya communities, mahua liquor is used in all festivities from birth to death. Many people in these communities also support themselves by selling small amounts of this liquor. Yet despite the similarities, the benefit of the most recent heritage liquor amendment will not be reaped by these communities because they are not listed as Scheduled Tribes in the state. They demanded that Vimukta communities also be allowed to manufacture and sell Mahua alcohol under the new excise policy.

The letter welcomed the chief minister’s announcement, as the amendment would mean that criminal charges against people from tribal communities would be withdrawn. He also requested that these offenses also be removed against people belonging to Vimukta communities, as it has been observed that the community is specifically targeted by law enforcement officials in relation to excise offenses and other minor offences. under various laws. The letter further calls for the provisions of the amendment involving the death penalty in relation to excise offenses to be removed, as they are of concern to the community.

The letter read, “Based on the disproportionate criminalization concerns outlined above, it is not a stretch to expect this provision to be misused against our community.”

More than 80 prominent members of civil society and some well-known NGOs also signed the letter to the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, expressing their support for members of the Vimukta community, who have demanded parity with TS, and expressed their concerns over the latest amendments to the Excise Act. They include lawyer Gautam Bhatia, law professor Dr Anup Surendranath, jurist Pratiksha Baxi, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Common Cause, Alternative Law Forum, literary critic Professor Ganesh N. Devy, researcher and writer Dr Madan Meena, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, lawyer and activist Vrinda Grover, law professor Dr. Arushi Garg, Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network, Article 21 Trust and sociologist Jean Dreze.