Brushing aside objections from partner RJD and main opposition BJP, the Nitish Kumar government is bringing in several amendments to tighten the prohibition law in Bihar, including one that will make culpable all adults of a family if any member is found drinking, possessing or selling liquor from the premises they occupy.
Other stringent changes being made to the law include provisions to confiscate property and impose collective penalty on a village or town.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has, however, kept toddy out of the liquor category and allowed its personal use under a 1991 rule — the only RJD demand he has conceded.
The amendments to the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act, 2016, were tabled in the Assembly Friday and will be taken up for discussion Monday. The proposed changes are so stringent that an arrested offender will not be granted bail.
The BJP has described the proposals as “draconian and disproportionate to offence” but can do little except object — the ruling alliance has a strength of 178 MLAs in a House of 243.
BJP legislature party leader Sushil Kumar Modi said: “We do support prohibition but not its draconian provisions. Several of these contravene fundamental rights of an individual. And how can one be blamed for the mistake of his family member? Will family of murderers and rapists also be arrested? Most proposed amendments are disproportionate to offence. It is turning out to be a Tughlaqi law.”
He said Nitish Kumar should be asked if someone throws an empty liquor bottle on the premises where Lalu Prasad lives, will police arrest Lalu, Rabri Devi with his two minister-sons under the provision which makes all adults of a family culpable.
LJP chief and Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said the proposed amendments were an “an act of madness”.
Meanwhile, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi has accepted Nitish Kumar’s proposal to study the social and economic impact of prohibition. On Friday, the Chief Minister had said a study by a neutral body like Bachpan Bachao Andolan would carry more weight. Praising Nitish Kumar for bringing in prohibition, Satyarthi said “it will also help check child abuse and child labour”.
These are the changes proposed to the existing prohibition law (translation in English):
All adults of a family to be held responsible
If liquor or intoxicant substance is found or consumed in a house or premises, it will be assumed that all persons above the age of 18 using the premises had knowledge of liquor or intoxicant storage, consumption or distribution till it is proved otherwise… Any person providing vehicle, utensil and any other material for manufacturing of liquor will be held responsible for the crime till proved otherwise.
Company owner, unit head to be held accountable
Any violation of the prohibition law including liquor consumption, storage and distribution inside premises of a company will make not just an offender the accused but also the company owner or its local unit head. Besides, anyone who facilitates drinking and allows drinkers to gather at his house will face action. If a person fails to provide information about storage of liquor in his premises by any other person, it will entail punishment of minimum eight years that can be extended to 10 years, and the fine can be increased to Rs 10 lakh.
Provision of collective fine, powers of Collector
If a group of people in a village or town violates liquor law frequently, a District Collector will have powers to impose collective fine on the village or town. The role of Collector has been expanded and role of SP and excise officers are well defined.
Premises to be confiscated, not just sealed
If liquor is found in a house or premises, it will not just be sealed but will also be confiscated. There will be special courts for trial of liquor cases.
Punishment for misuse of liquor law
A policeman or an excise officer can get punishment up to three years or face maximum Rs 1 lakh fine or both if found guilty of framing any individual on wrong or motivated charges for vengeance or misuse of authority.