First step for Nitish's dry run

Bihar is set to come under the strictest prohibition regime in the country with the Assembly today passing the new excise bill that makes family members and company officials responsible for violations by one of their own.

By Our Special Correspondent in Patna
  • Published 2.08.16

Patna, Aug. 1: Bihar is set to come under the strictest prohibition regime in the country with the Assembly today passing the new excise bill that makes family members and company officials responsible for violations by one of their own.

The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Bill 2016, labelled "Talibani" by the main Opposition BJP which unsuccessfully brought in two amendments, will now be placed in the Legislative Council.

The legislation is unprecedented in many ways as it does not have any exception or exemption unlike other dry states that have provisions for outsiders, tourists and star hotels.

"There is no exemption. We will enforce prohibition with all the authority at command to pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on the completion of 100 years of his visit to Champaran in Bihar," chief minister Nitish Kumar said during the debate on the bill.

The BJP, which had moved over 10 amendments, opposed it tooth and nail. It forced voting on two of its amendments - one related to implicating all adult family members if one of them was a violator and another on allowing 11 liquor factories to bottle IMFL in the state. But the two amendments fell through by 46:150 and 45:153 votes, a reflection of the BJP-led NDA's numerical weakness against the brute majority of Nitish's Grand Alliance.

"I knew that I was stirring a hornet's nest when I decided to impose prohibition. I knew that various forces, among them the liquor mafia and vested interests, would create misgivings about it. But I am not a person who backs out from his commitment. I will prefer to perish rather than succumbing to pressure," Nitish said while intervening in the debate after the NDA members walked out in protest against what they termed was a "draconian" legislation.

The debate was one of the most bitter in the annals of the Assembly, lasting for three-and-a-half hours. Speaker Vijay Kumar Choudhary extended the session by at least two-and-a-half hours to conclude it. The House passed the bill around 6.45pm.

Replying to the Opposition's charge that the bill would deprive the toddy-tapping Dalit communities of their traditional means of livelihood, Nitish clarified: "The toddy-tappers would continue to enjoy the exemptions they already have. The cabinet will issue a notification continuing with the exemption when it notifies the Act till the government makes alternative arrangements for their employment and livelihood."

Nitish also said the bill was armed with stringent provisions to punish excise officials and police who were found "guilty" of misusing them. "There is a provision for three years of jail and Rs 10 lakh fine for officials unduly harassing the people apart from stripping them of their jobs and initiating departmental proceedings against them. In no way can the officials misuse the provisions. The law is as tough for the offenders as it is for enforcing agencies," he said.

The chief minister rebutted the BJP's charge that the majority of the Grand Alliance partners were opposed to the bill and that even Lalu Prasad, the leader of the RJD - the largest party in the House - had expressed his reservations against the bill. "There is total unanimity in the Grand Alliance's rank and file. The bill has been introduced after a thorough discussion among the Grand Alliance partners. I observe the coalition dharma and I don't believe in forcing my own will. There is no division in the Grand Alliance on the bill," he said.

Nitish said crime had dipped by 12.7 per cent after prohibition was enforced and "there was sense of jubilation among the weaker sections and women on the government's decision to proscribe liquor that was a bane for society".

The chief minister's reply followed a scathing attack launched on him by the BJP's Nand Kishore Yadav, who moved two amendments. "The bill reflects the CM's sadistic and cynical mindset. You (Nitish) made the people drink by opening thousands of (liquor) shops. And now you are using your sadist mind to punish the poor people who got addicted due to your policies. The bill is is unprecedented, it has no parallel in the entire world, not to speak of in the country," he said.

"In which world are you (Nitish) living?" Nand Kishore said. "Do adult sons listen to their parents in matters of eating and drinking in today's times? But the old and ageing parents will land in jail if their son is found drinking. What sort of law is this? Nitish ji, you have lost your ways and wisdom. You had a lot of respect ...but you have squandered it all."