The Bihar assembly passed a bill on Monday to amend some of the stringent provisions of the prohibition law in order to prevent its misuse and make the quantum of punishment proportionate to the nature of offence.
The opposition, which had been asking the state government to declare Bihar as a "drought-hit" state, walked out of the house after lunch hour while the assembly took up the Bihar Prohibition and Excise (Amendment) Bill, 2018 for consideration.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed surprise over the opposition walkout as all the parties had given unanimous support when prohibition was introduced in the state and participated in a massive human chain formed last year against the liquor menace.
Leader of opposition in the assembly Tejashwi Yadav later told reporters that no amount of law-making on prohibition would have any meaning unless the government was able to give a guarantee that liquor would not be available in the state.
The fact was that the illegal liquor trade, as in Gujarat, is thriving in Bihar under the patronage of some ruling coalition leaders, with the connivance of the police and administration, Mr Yadav alleged.
Nitish Kumar told the house that the charge that prohibition has failed is not true as illegal liquor is still being seized.
"Murders are committed, despite a law against it. That does not mean the law has failed. What is needed is greater social awareness," the chief minister said.
Nitish Kumar denied loss of revenue on account of prohibition, saying the money earlier spent on liquor was now being used for better purposes, which was beneficial to all.
The prohibition law earlier provided for a five-year prison term, in addition to a Rs 1 lakh fine, for those consuming liquor or caught in an inebriated state. Now, first-time offenders will have to pay a fine of Rs 50,000, failing which, they will have to undergo a prison term of three months.
Besides, the offence has now been made bailable. Repeat offenders will be punished with a prison term of not less than a year and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh. However, those causing disturbance or violence in an inebriated state or facilitating consumption of liquor on their premises will continue to attract a prison term not shorter than five years and penalty of not less than Rs 1 lakh.
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