Total prohibition in Bihar ceased to exist from Friday with the Patna high court striking down a ban on Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) in the state, dealing a body blow to chief minister Nitish Kumar’s pet initiative.
Quashing the April 5 notification of the state government which banned the manufacture, consumption and sale of IMFL, a division bench comprising chief justice Iqbal Ahmed Ansari and justice Navaniti Prasad Singh held the prohibition to be “ultra vires to the Constitution, hence not enforceable”.
Friday’s court ruling also puts into doubt the Bihar government’s plan to introduce more stringent measures to enforce prohibition from October 2. The state cabinet had announced that a new raft of strict measures under the modified Bihar Prohibition and Excise Bill, 2016, would be implemented from Sunday following a gazette notification. The new act had received the governor’s assent.
With the new act not notified yet and the old act quashed, Bihar is without prohibition on IMFL at the moment. However, the ban on country-made liquor continues.
The April notification of the government had been challenged in court by the Liquor Trade Association and a bunch of other individuals. YV Giri, one of the lawyers for the petitioners, said the Bihar government could file a special leave petition against the order in the Supreme Court within 30 days.
Implementing prohibition was the chief minister’s major poll promise and he had been pursuing it since taking office with single-minded devotion.
Kumar also toured many places in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab championing the cause of prohibition.
Allowing the writ applications, the court said in its 142-page judgment: “Section 19(4) of the Bihar Excise Act, 1915, as amended with effect from April 1, 2016 is ultra vires to the Constitution and unenforceable. The impugned notification, dated April 5, 2016, issued by the state under section 19(4) of the said amended Act is also ultra vires to the Constitution and consequently, unenforceable. The penal provisions of enhanced sentence and provisions, with regard to confiscation of property, as introduced…with effect from April 1, 2016 are also held to be ultra vires to the Constitution.”
The petitioners challenging prohibition had argued that it “creates unreasonable restrictions on choice of livelihood of a person which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution”.
It light of the court ruling, experts said the Bihar government may find it difficult to notify the new act with more stringent measures. They said government cannot go ahead with the same provisions in the new Act, which have already been quashed.
If the government goes ahead with the notification of the new act for implementation from October 2, it would be immediately be challenged in the court.
“We will study the court order and take action in that light,” said Amir Subhani, home department principal secretary.