Is the 50 per cent insurance value too steep to pay? Don’t worry. If you are caught carrying liquor in your vehicle in Bihar, you don’t have to pay a fortune now — Just pay 10 per cent of the insurance value and get the vehicle back home.
Let’s make it simpler: If a vehicle carrying liquor was confiscated and the insurance value of the vehicle was Rs 4 lakh, one had to pay Rs 2 lakh to get it released. However, the tweaked rule under the Liquor Prohibition Policy, 2016, says one can now pay Rs 40,000 and take the vehicle back home.
The modification was done after a review meeting by the Nitish Kumar cabinet. Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) S Siddharth told reporters: “One can now get their vehicle released by paying authorities concerned just 10 per cent of the insurance cover up to a maximum of Rs 5 lakh, after following standard judicial process.”
According to reports, over 50,000 four-wheelers are gathering dust across 800 police stations of the state. The vehicles have rusted or broken down in the absence of upkeep and maintenance.
Other rules that were tweaked since April 2022 say if someone is a first-time drinker and gets caught, after paying Rs 2,000-5,000, he or she can get away. Earlier, mandatory imprisonment was provisioned.
Also, if someone dies due to consumption of spurious liquor in the state, the government will compensate with Rs 4 lakh to the family of the deceased. All they have to do is write to the district magistrate that the death was due to consumption of liquor and they support the chief minister’s prohibition policy. Earlier, Kumar had said no to compensation, emphasising that “Jo piyega woh marega (those who drink will die…)”
Now, regular drinkers/offenders will remain in jail for five years and not 10 if convicted by the court.
All offences heard by trial courts shall be disposed of through a summary trial by an executive magistrate not below the rank of Deputy Collector. Expectedly, this will unclog overburdened courts of Bihar.
In December 2021, the then Chief Justice of India NV Ramana had flagged the Bihar liquor law as an example of “lack of foresight” that resulted in the high court “being clogged with bail applications… a simple bail application takes a year to be disposed”.
The changes within a year have raised eyebrows. The question is if Kumar, who is still confident about the ban, really cares about the atrocities on women by their drunk husbands or if he has made the issue one of pride in bringing a policy which he thinks is a welfare measure for poor families of Bihar. Recently, several women and men from the Pasi community held a huge protest march on the streets of capital Patna demanding the rollback of ban on toddy in the state.
Multiple incidents of attack on police officials during excise raids in villages had women leading the attack. Footages with women hurling bricks and stones at policemen who went to raid or arrest liquor traders in Bihar’s interiors can be found on social platforms.
Rise in illicit trade, bootlegging, hooch deaths, disproportionate arrests, smuggling from neighbouring states are some of the issues the state is struggling with in recent years. Over 3.7 lakh cases have been clogging the courts and over 25,000 convictions have jammed the prisons of Bihar. The new amendment has revealed that over 50,000 confiscated vehicles are rusting in 800 police stations in the state.
The ban has also affected tourism with hotel managers complaining that their business is suffering as tourists, after visiting places, move to nearby states of Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
While Kumar’s intention may be right, the implementation of the policy certainly has drawbacks. The excise department has been, time and again, accused of harassing poor and underprivileged while having nexus with liquor traders on the other hand. Police department is also accused of taking bribes and monthly cuts by strong liquor lobbies.
Kumar had brought in the liquor ban policy in 2016 after several women in a rally alleged that the men in the family spent all earnings on alcohol and beat them. In the seventh year, a section of people claims that liquor is easily available in every district of Bihar, with the option of home delivery. All that has changed is that Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) is 2-3 times costlier, yet people buy liquor smuggled from states like UP, Jharkhand, West Bengal and even Arunachal Pradesh. Many experts opine that the liquor ban is draconian and counter-productive and a revisit on ban is necessary.