In a big letdown for the Nitish Kumar-led government in Bihar, the Patna High Court today struck down the state’s Prohibition of Liquor Act. The High Court, while passing the order, termed the act as ‘illegal’.
A division bench of the court comprising Chief Justice Iqbal Ahmed Ansari and Justice Navaniti Prasad Singh quashed the April 5 notification of the state government to stop consumption and sale of alcohol in the state.
The April 5 notification is ultra vires to the Constitution, hence not enforceable, the court said in its verdict.
The same bench had on May 20 reserved its order on a batch of writ petitions filed by Liquor Trade Association and many individuals challenging the liquor law in Bihar brought by Nitish Kumar government with stringent penal provisions.
The Nitish Kumar-led Grand Secular Alliance government had first banned the manufacture, trade, sale, consumption of country-made liquor since April 1, but later imposed a blanket ban on all types of liquor including foreign liquor in the state.
The Court today quashed the April 5 notification of the state government which had completely banned trade, manufacture and consumption of alcohol, Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) as well spiced and domestic liquor.
On the basis of experience in course of implementation of the Excise law, the state government had incorporated some additional provisions by way of Amendments enhancing duration of jail term, amount of penalty, arrest of adult members of a family in the event of recovery of liquour from home and community penalty among others.
The amended liquor legislation, after passage from both houses of the Bihar Legislature during recently concluded Monsoon session, was approved by the state Cabinet.
It has got consent of Governor Ramnath Kovind too. The Amended Liquor law was expected to be notified on October 2 next.
Asked about the fate of Amended Liquor legislation expected to be notified on October 2, Additional Advocate General Lalit Kishore said the court today quashed the April 5 notification.
"I would be able to talk more on the subject only after seeing the order of the court," he said.
Excise Commissioner A K Das said, "I cannot say anything at this moment as I have not seen the court's order."
Noted lawyer Rajiv Bhawan had appeared on behalf of the Bihar government on May 20 to defend the liquor law.
Senior Advocate YV Giri, who had appeared on behalf of Restaurant and Bar Association, had argued that the Amended Act was itself "unconstitutional" because it creates unreasonable restrictions on choice of livelihood of a person which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The content of the petitions filed on behalf of Liquor Trade Association and some individuals were also on similar lines.
The court's order quashing liquor notification would be a severe jolt to the government.
The Chief Minister had taken up the cause of prohibition on a mission mode and has been continuously monitoring the implementation of the alcohol ban in the state. Kumar has also toured many places in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab championing the cause of prohibition.
As per the last data provided by the state Excise department on September 2, 11,679 litre of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and 92,291.47 litre of country liquor were seized from April to August this year.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court also dismissed BJP leader Ashwani Upadhaya’s plea seeking a complete ban on liquor across the country.