Apex court restores Bihar’s liquor ban
Finally, relief has come from the Apex Court for beleaguered Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the state’s prohibition law case. The apex court on Friday stayed the Patna High Court order that had earlier quashed Kumar’s controversial liquor law banning the consumption and sale of liquor in the state.
“Ban on liquor and fundamental rights do not go together,” the SC bench said. The bench comprising of justices Dipak Misra and UU Lalit also has sought response of all respondents, including liquor manufacturers on whose plea the High Court had set aside the prohibition law. The matter has been posted for hearing after eight weeks.
After losing its case in the Patna HC, the Bihar government has challenged the High Court verdict of September 30. After the law was set aside, the Nitish Kumar government had notified a new law banning the sale and consumption of liquor from October 2, the day of Gandhi Jayanti.
Hailing the SC verdict, JD(U) leader Neeraj Kumar said, “It’s a victory for democracy. The top court has upheld the historic decision of Nitish Kumar. How can a law, which is aimed at providing a respectful life to people of the state, be illegal?”
“The government is not worried about the High Court’s opinion as Nitish Kumar’s efforts in making Bihar a liquor free-state would not go in vain. The top court order has certified that the law was very much legal and for the welfare of Biharis,” the JD(U) leader said.
The state government in its petition had urged the apex court to stay the High Court order quashing the April 5 notification to ban liquor. Following the HC order, it notified the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 to ensure that the ban on sale and consumption of alcohol, including Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) as well spiced and domestic liquor continued in the state.
While assailing the September 30 High Court verdict, the Bihar government urged SC to decide whether the state could impose an absolute prohibition on distribution and consumption of liquor and whether an individual could claim the right to consume liquor as his or her fundamental right under the Constitution.
It claimed that as a consequence of the High Court order, the state government’s efforts to bring in a complete prohibition on liquor, in the performance of its constitutional obligations, had been thwarted.
However, the law which was introduced in April has been dubbed hyper-stringent because of stringent provisions like punishing an entire family if a member is found drinking, making or buying alcohol. Policemen have refused promotion, claiming that the penalty for not implementing the law was too stiff.
Bihar is the country’s third most-populous state and the Chief Minister did away with the initial plan on banning liquor in phases, implementing a state-wide ban six months ahead of schedule. More than 13,000 people have been arrested since April for violating the prohibition policy.