Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s scheme to ban the manufacture and trade of country made and foreign liquor in the rural areas of the state is unlikely to have a smooth take-off from 1 April as officials fear that the prohibition will be challenged by the flow of liquor into Bihar from the states of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam and the adjoining areas of Nepal.
A concerned Chief Minister has already written to his counterparts in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim and even Assam, requesting them to take monitoring measures on inter-state borders to prevent the flow of liquor into Bihar. Bihar’s chief secretary has written to the chairman of the Railway Board asking him to instruct the concerned general managers and IGs of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) to prevent trains travelling through Bihar from carrying liquor.
On Thursday, an SUV was caught on the Bihar-Jharkhand border on NH 2. The vehicle was carrying five cartons of foreign-made liquor from Dhanbad in Jharkhand to Nawada in Bihar. Last week, senior police officers of the two states met at Patna and prepared a detailed action plan to prevent the transportation of liquor to Bihar.
Nitish Kumar, who has declared that he was firm on his resolve to ban liquor completely as part of his Seven Resolves (Saat Nishchay) scheme, in an effort to curb the sale of illicit liquor, has announced death penalty for the manufacturers of illicit liquor and is seeking to amend the Bihar Excise Act to make changes in the existing laws to incorporate the death sentence.
As per the new excise policy, foreign, country and spiced liquor will be banned across the rural areas of the state in the first phase beginning 1April. The second phase will make the prohibition absolute across the entire state.
The Bihar Cabinet, earlier this week, passed a resolution making drinking liquor in public places a criminal offence, which would invite imprisonment of 10 years and a fine up to Rs 5 lakh. The amended law also prescribes stringent action against the officers of excise and police departments who fail to control illicit liquor production and consumption. The new law also recommends punishment for the officers who attempt to implicate innocents in excise offences.
According to officials familiar with the development, the CM’s decision to impose a ban on liquor would result in the state government losing Rs 6,000 crore in revenue every year. It is pertinent to mention that revenue from excise had increased manifold after Nitish Kumar came to power in 2005, from Rs 300 crore to Rs 6,000 crore in 2015. After this, Kumar, in his second term as CM, recommended the expansion of liquor selling points even at the village levels.
However, in the 2015 Assembly elections, he realised that women were getting hostile towards him at his public meetings, demanding the closure of liquor shops. Following this, he promised that if he returned to power, he would enforce a total ban on liquor trade and consumption.
The decision to ban liquor, according to officials close to him, was taken by the CM while ignoring the opinions of his senior officers, members of the Cabinet and ruling party legislators. A Janata Dal United MLA, Gopal Mandal was recently suspended from the party after he called the decision to ban alcohol, foolish and claimed even gods and goddesses used to have liquor (sura).
As for the affluent sections of society, a concession has been made for them: the state run Beverage Corporation will open and manage the existing outlets at premier hotels and clubs. The vehicles used by the corporation to transport liquor will also be fitted with GPS to make sure that the liquor is not pilfered.
The Army and security forces’ canteens in the state have also been directed not to sell sealed bottles of liquor to their personnel, but sell them only after breaking the seals on the bottles. According to the new state excise policy, the Bihar government will allow liquor shops to function at tourists places like Bodh Gaya, Rajgir and Nalanda, where new shops too can be opened to meet increasing demand.
A new task has also been given to officers in charge of police stations, asking them to keep a watch on the Mahua (Madhuca Longifolia) trees in their jurisdiction. In Patna, the district collector, Sanjay Kumar Agarwal, on Thursday, wrote to the circle officers of 23 blocks in the district asking them to identify Mahua trees in their areas and mark their locations to enable the police to patrol and protect the trees. Mahua is a major ingredient of country made and spicy liquor. The identification and mapping of Mahua trees will be completed by 28 March (Monday) and Mahua will now become a state property. Landowners on whose land Mahua trees are planted will be allowed to retain only 5 kg of Mahua while the rest will be controlled by the forest department.
This is not for the first time that a ban on liquor has been imposed in the state. In 1977, the Janata Party government led by Karpoori Thakur had introduced a total ban on liquor. But the ban did not last more than a year and was lifted once the Morarji Desai government collapsed at the Centre and Thakur had to quit.