A sting video purportedly showing a Congress MLA offering alcohol to guests has embarrassed the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar that has imposed a ban on sale and consumption of liquor from this month.
Coalition partner Congress issued a showcause notice on Tuesday to its Narkatiaganj MLA, Vinay Verma, who was allegedly videotaped in a sting operation by a private channel.
“I have full stock, which is constantly replenished… I will offer you liquor. If you want to drink, I can offer drinks at my house. What we already have, how can we throw it away? We have to use it,” the MLA is allegedly filmed saying.
Under the amended Bihar Excise Act, sale, consumption and even offering liquor to anyone is considered an offence, punishable by imprisonment from 10 years to life and a fine ranging between Rs 1 lakh and 10 lakh.
The state government ordered a raid of Verma’s residence on Tuesday morning after news of the sting operation spread.
However, the raiding party, which included the West Champaran superintendent of police, and officials from the excise department and civil administration, found no alcohol at Verma’s house, located at DK Shikarpur under Shikarpur police station.
Responding to the allegations, Verma said he was framed.
“I was called in a Patna hotel. Some people were speaking against the Nitish government due to prohibition. When I spoke in favour of the government, they tried to incite me. I was not aware of the sting operation. They have distorted my remarks. I said that the government’s move was good and helping poor save money,” the legislator said.
Verma is the second Congress MLA to have embarrassed the party ever since the ‘grand alliance’ government was formed in November last year; Vikram MLA Siddharth was accused of kidnapping a girl from his village.
When the liquor ban was imposed, all MLAs had taken a pledge in the Bihar assembly to not consume liquor and discourage others as well.
However, sources claim that dealers in Bihar are selling bottles of alcohol at exorbitant prices in the open. Hindustan Times also reported of a boom in ‘’liquor tourism’’ in areas bordering the state, with people going across to Nepal, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal to get their fix.
In the wake of the controversy, BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi alleged that “over half” of the “ministers and legislators” of the ruling Grand Alliance were “habitual boozers”.
In another sting operation, a wine dealer boasted of acquiring all brands of alcohol within 10 minutes despite the ban.
Bihar is the fourth Indian state to go dry after Gujarat, Nagaland and Mizoram.
HT has reported that neighbouring Nepal was witnessing an increasing number of tourists of late in the areas it shares a border with Bihar. They enter Nepal only to get drunk.