New Delhi: The Bihar Cabinet on Wednesday approved proposed amendments to the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, according to an IANS report.
The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The amendments are set to be tabled during the monsoon session. The Indian Express quoted principal secretary Arun Kumar Singh as saying, “The Cabinet has given its nod to the proposal for amendments in the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016.”
According to the Indian Express report, earlier in the week, chief minister Nitish Kumar had said, “Amendments will be brought in the monsoon session. We have received people’s feedback on misuse of some provisions of the law by police and excise department… The objective of the proposed amendments is to ensure that people are not harassed unnecessarily.”
The Nitish Kumar government had introduced a ban on sale and consumption of liquor in April 2016. The ban’s implementation however has been met with all round criticism about how the stringent rules have hit the poor hard, filling up prisons and adding to the hardships of the families of the accused.
More than 1.4 lakh people have been booked under the liquor law ever since it was implemented in 2016. In April this year, The Wire had reported how most people arrested in the state are from economically poor backgrounds, lacking the monetary resources to fight a legal battle. Many individuals were arrested for consuming liquor, besides often being falsely accused.
The Nitish Kumar government now appears to be ready to roll back at least some of the most stringent provisions.
The New Indian Express today quoted the state’s advocate general Lalit Kishor telling a news channel, “The proposed amendments include a reduction in the quantum of punishment awarded to those involved in the sale and manufacture of liquor as well as those consuming alcohol, including first time offenders.”
According to sources, the provision which allows “arrest of all adults in a family if an adult of the house is found consuming, distributing or storing liquor” may also be amended, said the Indian Express.
In addition, there is also a proposal to revisit the provision related to imposition of fine on the entire community if liquor was found to be manufactured in a particular area and making sections of the law bailable.
Notwithstanding the hardships Prohibition has imposed on the poor, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has successfully used the liquor ban to carve out an electoral constituency among women voters. In the 2015 assembly polls, the voting percentage among women was a significant 7.16 percentage points higher than among men (60.48% to 53.32%), according to a report in the Indian Express.
Even earlier than 2015, Kumar had launched policies aimed at increasing his party’s popularity and influence among women voters. For instance, in 2006, the chief minister reserved 50% seats in panchayat and local body elections for women, increasing women’s representation and intervention in local bodies. That same year, Kumar also introduced a bicycle scheme for schooling girls, leading to a substantive increase in girls’ enrolment in secondary and senior secondary schools. In consonance with this gender-based electoral strategy, Kumar promised prohibition to women who had urged him to ban liquor in the state.