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Nitish push, CJI worry: With 3.5 lakh cases, prohibition clogs Bihar courts, jails

India News

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, currently on his statewide “Samaj Sudhar Abhiyan” (social reform campaign) yatra to create public awareness on liquor prohibition, slammed those opposed to prohibition. He said those who drink and have a problem coming to Bihar because of the unavailability of liquor didn’t need to come to the state.

Delivering a speech last Sunday, Chief Justice of India N V Ramana had cited the Bihar prohibition law as one example of “lack of foresight” in drafting legislation that leads to courts being inundated with cases and “a simple bail application” taking a year to be disposed of.

What Nitish glossed over is the fact that since the enforcement of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, courts have been clogged and jails overcrowded.

State police records show that 3,48,170 cases have been lodged and 4,01,855 arrests made under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise law until October this year. About 20,000 bail applications relating to these cases have been pending for disposal before the Patna High Court and district courts in the state.

The Patna High Court disposed of 19,842 bail pleas (anticipatory and regular) in liquor prohibition cases between January 2020 and November 2021, with the overall bail pleas disposed by the court during this period being 70,673. Until this November, 6,880 bail pleas in such cases have still been pending before the high court, with the overall bail pendency figure standing at 37,381.

Altogether Bihar’s 59 jails have the capacity to accommodate about 47,000 prisoners. However, there are currently about 70,000 prisoners in these jails, nearly 25,000 of whom were booked under the liquor law, according to jail sources.

With the Bihar police intensifying its drive against liquor prohibition violators since the hooch tragedies struck Gopalganj and Bettiah in early November this year, about 10,000 alleged violators were arrested in November alone. This has resulted in further crowding of jails across the state. Beur Central Jail in Patna has a capacity to accommodate about 2,400 prisoners, but it is currently packed with 5,600 prisoners.

A jail superintendent said: “Every third or fourth prisoner is an accused under the liquor law. This has been the trend since 2017. We had some respite in 2019 and 2020 with most getting bails, but the number of liquor law violators has been surging again in jails”.

When reached for comment, Bihar additional director of police (Headquarters) Jitendra Singh Gangwar told The Indian Express, “IG (Prisons) can share details regarding liquor law”. IG (Prisons) Mithilesh Mishra, was, however, not available.

A home department source said: “The conviction rate in liquor cases is less than one per cent. But about 75 special courts are being set up for quick disposal of cases under the liquor prohibition and excise law”.

Meanwhile, Nitish Kumar continues to double down on his campaign for liquor prohibition in Bihar. During his current yatra, the CM had, in Gopalganj on 24 December, said: “Death sentence to 9 people (this March) by Gopalganj court in 2016 hooch case serves a big lesson to drinkers and traders. Piyoge to maroge (If you drink, you will die)”.

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