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Bail relief in dry law tweak

Chief minister Nitish Kumar in Saran on Wednesday. Telegraph picture

Patna: The state cabinet cleared the decks for major changes in Bihar's stringent prohibition law on Wednesday, two weeks after chief minister Nitish Kumar signalled that his government would amend the legislation in the coming monsoon session of the legislature.

Sources said first-time violators will be booked under bailable provisions instead of currently non-bailable ones. This means that first-time violators will get bail from the police station.

However, the law will gradually become harsher for repeat offenders, who would be jailed. Similarly, the provisions under which people could be booked, arrested and their houses seized if liquor bottles - even empty ones - were found on their premises will be struck down, the sources added.

All family members will not be punished if one among them is found inebriated or violating the liquor ban, neither will houses, farms and vehicles be seized in cases of liquor-related offences.

With the state cabinet on Wednesday approving the draft amendment in the dry law, the stage is now set for tweaking the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, which has faced flak as draconian and extreme.

The approval to the draft came at a cabinet meeting chaired by Nitish. It will now be tabled as an amendment bill in the state legislature in the coming monsoon session that will be held from July 20 to 26.

"Yes, the state cabinet has approved the amendment that will be brought into the prohibition law. It will be tabled in the state legislature in the monsoon session. Till then we cannot reveal anything," said Bijendra Prasad Yadav, the state prohibition, excise and registration minister.

Principal secretary, cabinet secretariat, Arun Kumar Singh also chorused the "cannot reveal" line, only saying that the amendment will be called the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act 2016 - Amendment Bill 2018.

Government sources said that various provisions that would not stand on the touchstone of jurisprudence will be struck off once the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council pass the amendment.

"The changes, like making the offence bailable for first-time offenders, are reformatory in concept," said a highly placed source in the state government. "It also takes into account the fact that various people from outside the state have been arrested in Bihar even if they were not fully aware about the liquor ban. First-time offenders will now be able to secure bail from the police station."

Another source added that various provisions - such as those under which people were jailed and their immovable assets were seized even if a liquor bottle was found in their courtyard or cowshed - of the dry law were being misused, hence the state government decided to amend it. Fines could be imposed on first-time offenders and if they don't pay it they could be jailed, said another source, adding that the provision for imposing community fine - entire panchayats were penalised for repeat offences in a village - will be struck down.

Nitish clamped total prohibition on April 5, 2016. Till May 31, 2018, police and excise officials have arrested 1.41 lakh people and registered 1.17 lakh cases on charges of flouting the liquor ban. Over 20 lakh litres of India-made foreign liquor and 9 lakh litres of country liquor have been seized during this period.

Amendments to the anti-dowry and the GST Act will also be tabled in the monsoon session.

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