Several members of the Patna Club who came to its sprawling premises for a birthday party on Saturday, a day after a division bench of the high court struck down the Bihar government’s prohibition law , were in for a disappointment. Sale of liquor continues to be banned, much to the despair of tipplers.
Guests at the party hosted by a private firm at a top-end hotel near the iconic Gandhi Maidan too failed to get their fix. Despite Friday’s court ruling, raising hopes of a quick end to forced abstinence, the invitees had to settle for soft drinks served by sharply dressed waiters.
Some overzealous college students out and about at some well-known watering holes of the city too had to return thirsty.
Despite the court ruling, bar owners are unwilling to rush into opening for business. For one, they are waiting for clarity on what the Nitish Kumar-led government will do in the wake of the setback in court. There is talk that it will go ahead with a new prohibition law, with far more stringent measures, on Sunday.
Whether such a step is legally tenable is subject of an intense debate. For the time being, there is confusion, and liquor traders and bar owners are playing it safe.
“Thought the high court has quashed the law, uncertainty prevails about what tomorrow will bring. In any case, we are left with no stock,” explained a hotel manager.
“Why stock liquor? The ban has been lifted for just two days. The new act will come into force from October 2,” said the manager of another hotel.
Hotels and clubs alike wore a deserted look as they did not have the stock or a license to serve liquor. Kumar had clamped total prohibition in the state after being re-elected the chief minister last year.
Not everyone, though, missed drinking. “The Navratra has begun. Even the most avid drinkers avoid liquor during this period,” pointed out Devdutt, a member of a prominent club in the city.
Hotel owners said they were looking forward to how things develop in the coming days, saying prohibition has been bad for business. “Room occupancy has gone down considerably as many outstation visitors prefer to fly back the same day,” said one.
Prohibition, however, was chief minister Kumar’s principal poll promise, aimed at winning the support of women voters, and he is unlikely to give up on that meekly.
The chief minister has convened a special cabinet meeting on October 2, triggering speculation that he would notify and then enforce the stringent prohibition measures. According to highly placed sources, the government is also planning to file a special leave petition in the apex court, challenging the HC order.