Bihar passes ''draconian'' liquor law

PATNA: A stringent Bihar Excise and Prohibition Bill, 2016, was passed on Monday in the state Assembly by voice vote amidst boycott by Opposition over the state government''s rejection of their proposals in the over three hour-long debate on the legislation.

uttara@tribuneindia.com

Patna, August 1

A stringent Bihar Excise and Prohibition Bill, 2016, was passed on Monday in the state Assembly by voice vote amidst boycott by Opposition over the state government's rejection of their proposals in the over three hour-long debate on the legislation.

Though the new legislation for total prohibition incorporated provisions like production, marketing and consumption of toddy — a livelihood of the Pasis, a Dalit community, the state government allowed them to carry on with their traditional business till a mechanism was put in place for processing 'Nira', an unfermented drink made out of toddy juice.

The NDA members, who had unsuccessfully moved 17 amendments to the Bill, and vociferously opposed it in its current form, trooped out of the House ahead of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's reply.

They later took out a protest march to the Raj Bhawan and submitted a memorandum to Governor Ramnath Kovind in this regard.

Earlier, state Excise and Prohibition Minister Abdul Jalil Mastan introduced the Bihar Excise and Prohibition Bill, 2016, for consideration and passage by the Assembly in the post-lunch session.

Speaker Vijay Kumar Chaudhary put all 100 sections of the new prohibition law for discussion by the members during which opposition BJP members introduced 17 amendments, all of which were rejected by the House by voice vote.

The BJP members had sought division of votes on two of their amendment motions. But both were rejected by the House with the opposition getting 46 votes compared to 150 against after counting of votes on the amendment in section 17 of the Bill, while the amendment motion on section 32 was voted out by the treasury benches with 153 against and only 45 in its favour.

During the debate on the Bill, senior BJP MLA Nandkishore Yadav, HAM (Secular) President Jitan Ram Manjhi and RLSP MLA Lalan Prasad and CPI (M-L Liberation) MLA Mahboob Alam spoke against it.

They pleaded with the state government to not press for its passage in its current form and described the stringent provisions under it as "draconian", particularly in view of one that sought arrest of all adult family members of a house in the event of recovery of a liqour bottle.

The Chief Minister in his reply rebutted the charges.

The previous Bihar Excise (Amendment), Act, 2015, passed by the state legislature during the budget session earlier, had provision for three months imprisonment and fine upto Rs 10,000 if excise and police officials harassed people on fabricated charge of consumption and possession of liqour.

Under the new law, a stringent provision has been made to increase the quantum of imprisonment to three years, besides penalty of Rs one lakh, he said.

Criticising opposition parties, particularly BJP for spreading "false propaganda" against the state government over the new prohibition law being "anti-poor and aimed at ushering in 'police raj' in Bihar", Kumar cited the example of dismissal from service of seven excise officials recently for slapping a fabricated charge of possession of liqour bottle by a motorist travelling to Kolkata.

In addition, provisions have been incorporated for initiating action under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Prevention of Corruption Act against those excise and police officials found guilty of harassing a common man on fake charge of drinking alcohol and carrying liqour bottles, he said.

"There will be no police raj in Bihar," he said and put up a strong defence on the need to bring a new law on prohibition.

Kumar said legal experts had detected several deficiencies in the previous law and suggested amendments but the state government has gone for a total overhaul by bringing in a new legislation.

The old prohibition law will be repealed once the new law comes into being, he said.

On the toddy issue, which the opposition parties had harped on, Kumar clarified that those engaged in the business of producing and selling toddy drink for their livelihood will continue to do so till a new mechanism comes in place for processing of 'Nira'.

This mechanism will be in place by next summer, he said: "You (Opposition) stop bothering about the welfare of those people (Pasis) who have been dependent on toddy business for livelihood ... We are here to take care of them," Kumar said, adding the state government has hired the services of experts from Tamil Nadu and a MOU signed for processing and marketing of various products, including eatables and fancy materials out of various produces of palm trees in Bihar. — PTI

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