Patna: The coming Friday may see some amendments to the Bihar Chief Minister’s pet piece of draconian legislation, the much abused and ill-conceived total prohibition law. Punishment for “knowledge of possession of intoxicant and failure to inform excise and police officials” is among the prohibition law provisions that are set to go.
Some of the provisions of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, that the cabinet-approved amendment proposes to delete include the imposition of collective fines, enhanced punishment for repeat offenders, expelling of notorious or habitual offenders, and the penalty for passing off country liquor as India made foreign liquor (IMFL).
There was a rumour that the possession and carrying of liquor may become a ‘bailable’ offence, but so far there’s been no confirmation of that.
The government will table the amendment bill in the legislature during the monsoon session that starts on Friday, it is learnt.
“The amendment bill proposes to strike down Section 38 of the Act. This section mandates eight to 10 years’ imprisonment and fine of up to Rs 10 lakh, which if defaulted will add another one year’s prison term,” said a local newspaper quoting a ‘highly placed government source’.
Section 38(1) is related to possession of liquor and Section 38(2) is related to “knowledge of possession”.
It is being deleted mainly because of punishment provisioned for having ‘any knowledge about possession or storage’ and not informing the government about it and the fact that it makes the entire family liable for the violation. It would be very difficult for the prosecution in such cases to prove the violations, and also the provisions are liable to be misused.
Section 66 of the Act, which empowers the district magistrate or collector to ‘expel notorious or habitual offenders’ from the district for a maximum period of six months will also go.
Section 53, which says a person will be given twice the punishment meted out to him in previous conviction, will also be removed, as will Section 35, which stipulates punishment up to life in prison and fine up to Rs 10 lakh for passing off country liquor as IMFL. ‘ There was such a thing as Section 35- seriously ?’ laughed a colleague, ‘while all booze is banned, you get a greater punishment for passing off hooch as IMFL? ‘
The prohibition law’s provision under Section 64 empowering district collectors to impose collective fines on villages, towns, localities, groups of people or community for repeated violations of the provisions of the Act, or if they are habitually prone to commit an offence under the Act, will also be removed by the amendment.
‘What? And we criticized the British for imposing such collective fines?’ said another incredulous common man. ‘I seriously thought that the prohibition laws were being painted black by the opposition, and had thought that some of these illogical laws were actually a bit of fake news!’