One-fourth pending cases in Bihar courts related to excise, shows HC data
It is ironic that one of the largest chunks of pending litigation in the dry state of Bihar is made up of excise-related cases such as recovery of banned liquor, arrests of liquor smugglers and hooch tragedies, data shows.
In the last three and a half years since 2018, the percentage of excise cases among total civil and criminal cases pending before the Patna high court has been around 19%, as per HC records. This rose to 21.75% in 2020, when the courts heard limited cases due to the pandemic.
The impact on subordinate courts is greater with their share of pending excise cases being around 25%, as per official figures. It was 25.42% during 2020. The total number of civil cases pending in Bihar’s subordinate courts stands at a staggering 3.337 million, including over 2.878 million criminal cases.
57,159 excise cases have been filed in Patna HC between 2018 and May 31, 2021. This includes 32,909 cases for regular bail, 23,495 for anticipatory bail and 314 for quashing besides others. The highest number of 26,270 cases was filed in 2019, up from 20,548 in 2018, though it dropped to 12,763 in 2020 and 8,070 in the first five months of 2021, largely due to the impact of the pandemic.
In the subordinate courts, 217,000 excise cases piled up in the last three years, besides, the 230,000 bail cases related to prohibition.
It was interesting to note that the border district of Kishanganj saw the lowest number of excise and prohibition-related bail cases in the last three years, while Bhojpur, Rohtas, Saran, Madhubani, Muzaffarpur, East Champaran and West Champaran reported the highest number of such cases during the period.
In 2019, alarmed by the growing pendency, the Patna high court asked the state for a plan to dispose of these excise-related cases. Though special courts were mandated for trial of liquor prohibition related cases, they did not exist then and have not become functional even till today, despite cabinet’s nod.
A senior official said on condition of anonymity that the government wanted at least one court in every district to exclusively hear excise cases and more than one court in bigger districts.
“The government requested the HC for appointing judges. However, the HC authorised courts of additional district judges (ADJ) in each district to also hear excise cases in addition to other cases,” he added.
While the litigations are growing, the number of judges in the HC has reached an all-time low with 35 vacancies (including the one to be created in September) against the sanctioned strength of 53.
Last month, the Patna high court 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 this court in the past.