SC criticises Bihar's liquor ban as bail applications crowd lower courtstext_fields
New Delhi: The Supreme Court of India has questioned the Bihar government on what studies or analyses it had undertaken before passing the controversial liquor prohibition law in 216, noting that the lower courts were choked with bail applications.
A bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh underlined that almost every bench in the Supreme Court is dealing with petitions arising out of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act — making it imperative to know whether the Bihar government carried out a legislative impact study and upgraded the judicial infrastructure to meet the new requirement.
3,48,170 cases were lodged and 4,01,855 arrests made under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise law until October last year and about 20,000 bail pleas in such cases are pending disposal either in the high court or in trial courts.
The court highlighted the extent of the problem by illustrating that 16 of 26 judges in the Patna high court are busy with litigation related to the 2016 liquor law, which was later amended in 2018 to water down some of the provisions of the Act relating to jail terms and confiscation of offenders' properties.
In December last year, Chief Justice N V Ramana had used the Bihar liquor ban as an example of "a lack of foresight in legislating" that "can directly result in the clogging of courts". A bench led by Justice Ramana has also dismissed over 40 appeals made my the Bihar state government last month against bail aplications made by accused under the law, stating that with so many arrested, bail applications took up to a year to process.
The JDU government in Bihar is already under pressure by the Opposition BJP for alleged "poor implementation of the law" which saw deaths related to illegal liquor spike in recent months. Over 50 died in Nalanda, Saran, West Champaran and Gopalganj between November 2021 and mid-January 2022, the Indian Express reported.
The constitutional validity of Bihar's controversial liquor prohibition law is also under challenge before the top court. A bench, headed by justice AM Khanwilkar, is seized of a bunch of petitions, including one by the International Spirits and Wines Association of India. The petitions have raised issues of violation of an individual's right to make choices, right to privacy, arbitrary and unreasonable restriction and draconian punishment under the law.
The matter will be heard by the SC in April of this year and it has already directed the state government to file a response to the petitions.