The story of prohibition in Bihar, howsoever well-intentioned, is preparing the ground for an increase in repression. In the run-up to the Bihar elections last year, chief minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar had promised the electorate that he would put an end to drinking in the state if he continued in power. This the voters, particularly the women, took in good part and Mr Kumar had been true to his word by introducing prohibition within a few months. But now, perhaps irked by media reports of boot-legging and smuggling of liquor because of lax supervision, leading people to drink, Mr Kumar is giving teeth to the anti-liquor law by making culpable even the adult family members of the offender. Worse, the whole village or a town in which the wrong-doer lives will have to pay a penalty for his or her transgression. Well-known opposition leaders have correctly criticised this new piece of legislation though some of them support prohibition.
The new law says if liquor or an intoxicating substance is found in a home, it will be assumed all members are in the know of it. This assumption is fallacious and tantamount to saying that if a person commits a theft, his or her father or mother will be deemed guilty. Can a 75-year-old woman be expected to know what her 45-year-old son is doing at home or elsewhere? Prohibition has been introduced in the state mainly keeping in mind the plight of women who have to put up with alcoholic family members. But this law will be stacked against adult women also if it comes into force. Another provision of the law is equally astounding. If an employee drinks in office, the company owner or the local unit head will be guilty for his or her conduct. Pronouncing guilty an entire village or a town where repeated offences occur could mean penalising the law-enforcing authorities also because they too may be residents of the places concerned. And how the system will be misused by the police is best left to the imagination. The corruption it will lead to can only spoil the good image of Mr Kumar. Next perhaps the state government will have to think of creating tribunals just to handle cases of litigation relating to such matters alone.
Some provisions in the law are sensible. For example, a police person will be held guilty if she or he frames someone. Also, the law penalises those who assist in storing or consuming liquor through whatever means. While keeping intact these provisions, the government would do well to drop the meaningless parts of the law. Else it will only lead to the whole liquor business going underground even more than it already has in Bihar.