Bihar government to dilute booze law to reduce load on courts
The Bihar government will amend the state’s prohibition law to lighten the humongous load of liquor-related cases on the judiciary, the decision coming after Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana’s criticism of the stringent law, officials said.
A key amendment will allow people caught drinking to be released with a fine, with executive magistrates of the rank of deputy collectors empowered to summarily dispose of such cases.
“Failure to pay the penalty will invite a month’s simple imprisonment,” a source in the prohibition and excise department told The Telegraph.
K.K. Pathak, additional chief secretary in the prohibition and excise department, and Bihar excise commissioner B. Kartikey Dhanji confirmed that amendments were on the anvil.
Dhanji added that vehicles from which liquor is recovered will be released with a fine rather than confiscated.
Justice Ramana had last month criticised the “lack of foresight” behind the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, which has clogged Patna High Court with bail applications that take about a year to be disposed of.
A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Ramana recently dismissed the Bihar government’s appeal challenging the anticipatory and regular bails granted by Patna High Court in liquor-related cases.
Currently, first-time offenders can secure bail from the police station by paying Rs 50,000 but have to face court cases. Most such people fail to pay the fine and are sent to jail for three months. Repeat offenders are straightaway sent to jail and face up to 10 years in prison, if convicted. The state government is expected to lower the fine substantially below Rs 50,000.
Around 3.5 lakh prohibition cases have been registered in Bihar and over 4 lakh people arrested since liquor was banned in April 2016.
Patna High Court disposed of around 20,000 of 72,000 liquor-related bail pleas — anticipatory and regular — in 2020 and 2021.