Bihar legislators vowed on Wednesday to stay away from liquor and inspire others, before they unanimously passed a law to initiate alcohol prohibition in the state.
Those found making or selling home-made liquor that kills consumers may get the death penalty, or a life sentence if someone is left seriously sick, according to the legislation.
The move came after chief minister Nitish Kumar, who was re-elected last year after he led an avowedly secular coalition to victory against the BJP and its allies, promised a group of angry women at a pre-poll event that he would make Bihar a dry state .
“Charity begins at home. If we are making a law, then we should unanimously pass a resolution from here itself,” he said in the House on Wednesday. “The message of unity in the form of a resolution that we will neither drink and nor promote drinking should go out to the people.”
Country-made alcohol will be totally prohibited in the first phase beginning on April 1, while Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) will be banned six months later.
The eastern state joins Gujarat, Kerala, Manipur, Nagaland and the Union Territory of Lakshadweep that have declared prohibition. Kerala has banned the sale of country liquor.
“For trade of illicit liquor or packaging of country liquor in IMFL bottles, the punishment could be up to 10 years and Rs 1-lakh fine,” the chief minister said. “Drinking at public places or inside shops could also lead to jail term from five to 10 years, besides fine. Even drinking at home and creating nuisance outside could invite penal action.”
The ban will be one of the largest in the world, affecting about 100 million people in Bihar, India’s third-most populous state.
Bootleg and adulterated liquor frequently sickens and kills people in the country while rising alcohol consumption and its detrimental impact has unhinged the lives of thousands of rural families.
Kumar said every effort has been made to ensure there are no loopholes. The government has opened indoor and outdoor de-addiction centres in every district to help people break the habit, he said.
In the 2014-15 the excise collection from the liquor in the state was Rs 3,700 crore while the target for 2015-16 was Rs 4,000 crore.
This is Bihar’s second experiment with prohibition, after a failed attempt in the 1970s saw proliferation of smuggling from neighbouring states where alcohol remained legal.
“We have discussed the issue with bordering states and the vehicles in transit would be digitally locked with entry into Bihar,” Kumar told the assembly. “The locks would automatically open when they would leave state territory, which has to be within 24 hours.”