The Bihar government is considering bringing an ordinance to plug a gap in the law that allows people to keep or possess alcoholic drinks in the state where sale and drinking of liquor is prohibited.
The Patna high court’s acting chief justice Iqbal Ahmad Ansari cited on May 26 the Bihar excise (amendment) act of 2016 in which nowhere was it mentioned that possession of liquor is illegal.
“We have not taken a decision … but the government is considering all options, including bringing in an ordinance, to declare even possession of liquor illegal under the prohibition law,” excise minister Abdul Jalil Mastan said.
The court’s observation appeared to have created a difficult situation for the state government as scores of people have been arrested and put behind bars for possession of liquor, even a bottle or two, since complete prohibition was imposed in Bihar on April 5.
But the excise minister made it clear on Saturday that the government was not willing to retract from its position on enforcing the prohibition law.
“Let there be no doubt that our liquor policy will be implemented strongly. Whatever is required to ensure this, the government is willing to do,” Mastan said, underscoring chief minister Nitish Kumar’s pre-poll promise of total prohibition in the state.
The court had held that the law has not banned possession of foreign liquor.
In this context, the acting chief justice quoted a government notification, which reads: “In exercise of the powers conferred under Section- 19(4) of the Bihar Excise Act, 1915 (as amended by Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act, 2016), the State Government hereby imposes ban on wholesale or retail trade and consumption of foreign liquor by any license holder or any person in the whole of the State of Bihar with immediate effect”.
The observation was made in the context of a petition by Ram Sumir Sharma of Aurangabad district, in which he challenged authorities for charging his nephew with illegal possession of liquor.
“…the state government has not prohibited possession of liquor by anyone and unless such a notification is published, possession of foreign liquor would not become an offence punishable under the act,” the court said.