5 years on, Bihar tweaks its Prohibition rules
A little over five years since a total ban was imposed on sale and consumption of liquor in the state, Bihar has tweaked its stringent Prohibition law to make it more practical, said officials of the prohibition and excise department.
Now, instead of sealing the entire premises in cases of liquor haul, only the portion from where recoveries are made would be sealed, according to the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Rules, 2021, which got state cabinet nod on Wednesday.
The relaxation, however, would not apply in case of detection of liquor manufacturing or bulk storage from any premises or sale/purchase and supply from there. In that situation, the entire premises would be sealed as per provisions of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016.
The new rules will also allow storage of liquor in Cantonment areas and military stations, though there will be no permission to serving or retired defence personnel to consume or possess liquor outside the Cantonment area.
”The provision for allowing storage of liquor in Cantonment area and military stations was there in the Act earlier also, but nobody can carry or posses it outside or move in an inebriated condition beyond the area. They have just been incorporated in the rules. If anybody is caught drunk outside the Cantonment area, law will take its own course without any distinction,” Bihar’s excise commissioner B Kartikey Dhanji said.
The new rules are aimed at making implementation of the 2016 Act easier by removing the practical difficulties that have surfaced after over five-year experience during which mounting litigations related to liquor cases saddled the courts and led to a lot of criticism from the Opposition.
As per official statistics, nearly 25 per cent of the total pending cases in lower courts and 20% in the high court are prohibition related cases. In 2019, alarmed by the growing pendency, the Patna High Court had asked the state government to present a plan for how it plans to dispose these cases related to excise. Though special courts were mandated in the new law for trial of liquor related cases, they could not be set up till then. Later, the state cabinet cleared a proposal for setting up 74 special courts. However, they are not yet functional.
The new rules have also provided permission to distilleries in the state for manufacturing of extra neutral alcohol (ENA) and ethanol. Bihar has nine functional distilleries, but the number is set to grow substantially after it became the first state in the country to have its Ethanol Production Promotion Policy, 2021, which promotes new standalone ethanol manufacturing units by providing them additional capital subsidy at 15% of the cost of plant and machinery up to a maximum of ₹5 crore.
However, the manufacturing of ethanol and ENA will be closely monitored and will be under surveillance of close circuit TV camera to prevent their misuse. The footage will be kept safe for one month for inspection.
ENA is a grade of ethanol derived from sugarcane molasses and is distilled multiple times. They are used in alcoholic beverages like whisky, vodka, gin, cane, liqueurs, and alcoholic fruit beverages due to their higher levels of purity.
Ethanol is an organic compound. The government has set a target to blend 10% fuel-grade ethanol with petrol by 2022. It is also used extensively as a solvent in the manufacture of varnishes and perfumes; as a preservative for biological specimens; in the preparation of essences and flavourings; In many medicines and drugs; as a disinfectant and in tinctures (e.g., tincture of iodine); in alcoholic beverages and as a fuel and gasoline additive.
The new rules also make it binding for vehicles transporting liquor to other states leave the state boundaries within 24 hours. As soon as they will enter the state limits, the vehicles carrying liquor will have digital lock at the check post. The digital locks will be removed at the exit points.
Excise commissioner B Kartikey Dhanji said the new rules were in keeping with the changes required due to the advent of the new ethanol policy, which would lead to opening of new units and require more monitoring, and experiences of over five years, without in anyway diluting the force of law.
In July this year, the Patna High Court had directed that all proceedings related to confiscation of property under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, must positively be initiated/concluded within a period of 90 days from the date of appearance of the parties concerned and the appeal/revision, if any, be also decided within a period of 30 days from the date of initiation, failing which the “things” (vehicle/property/ etc.) shall be deemed to have been released in terms of several orders passed by the HC in the past.