1st Lok Sabha polls in ‘dry’ Bihar set to test liquor ban

Candidates and political parties offering liquor to lure voters at the time of election is nothing new, but the practice is set to test both the authorities and the candidates in the run-up to the 2019 general election, which will be the first big election in “dry” Bihar, where total prohibition was imposed on April 5, 2016.

While supply of liquor was earlier treated as a violation of the model code of conduct, it can now invite stringent action under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, which includes a jail term.

The impact of prohibition was first apparent during the 2016 panchayat polls, which were held soon after the enforcement of prohibition. The fear of landing in jail brought down use of liquor significantly, if not entirely.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Bihar had close to 5,500 licensed liquor shops and the Election Commission had ordered video surveillance on all stocking points. Still, there were complaints about use of liquor as inducement and seizures were frequently made before polling. FIRs were also lodged against political leaders.

According to EC sources, around 5.78 lakh litres of liquor were confiscated in Bihar during the 2014 polls. Similarly, huge recoveries were made during 2015 assembly polls also.

Additional chief electoral officer Sanjay Singh said that since there was Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, in place now, anybody trying to lure voters with liquor would be doing so at a huge risk as the law has provision of jail sentence. “It is not just a case of model code violation now,” he said.

While a breach of model code only invites censure from the EC or criminal cases for serious breaches, consuming or supplying liquor can now attract stringent penal provisions. “Earlier, EC dealt with illicit liquor, but now all liquor in Bihar is illicit. Anybody caught with liquor will land up in jail. Raids have been intensified and two trucks of liquor seized in Gopalganj in the last few days,” Singh said.

On Tuesday, police seized liquor worth Rs 20 lakh hidden under potato bags in a truck in Gopalganj district. In another raid the same day, police recovered 490 bottles from eight vehicles. On January 26 also, police had recovered around 4,000 bottles in Gopalganj from an agriculture field.

In the last one week, several big consignments have also been seized in Muzaffarpur, Begusarai, Gopalganj and other parts. A truck carrying 300 liquor cartons worth Rs 30 lakh in the midst of orange consignment from Haryana to Purnea was also seized. A police officer said that with Holi also approaching, there are chances of smugglers getting more active.

Excise commissioner Kartikey Dhanji said the anti-liquor drive of the department would be further intensified in the run-up to election. “We will increase our vigil across the state, as smugglers use innovative ways to dodge the police,” he said.

Having made promise of prohibition to women during 2015 assembly election campaigning, chief minister Nitish Kumar orderd total prohibition in the state on April 5, 2016, after a unanimous decision of the Bihar Legislative Assembly and the Bihar Legislative Council. The members also took a pledge not to use liquor and discourage others from using it.

Though later the Opposition parties became critical of the way it had been implemented to leave enough scope for smuggling and rampant arrests, Bihar remained legally dry, with Kumar highlighting the positives in the society, especially with regard to women and poor, to back his decision.

Recent recoveries

March 10 – Illicit liquor factory busted in Muzaffarpur

March 11: 120 cartons of liquor seized in Vaishali district

March 12: Rs 20-lakh worth liquor hidden under potato bags in a truck sized in Gopalganj district

March 12:– Recovery of 490 bottles from 8 vehicles in Gopalganj

March 10: 120 cartons of liquor recovered from Begusarai

March 10: Liquor seized from poultry farm, field in Bhagalpur

March 7: Police recover 370 cartons of liquor in Sasaraam

March 6: 300 liquor cartons worth Rs 30-lakh recovered in the midst of orange consignment in Gopalganj

First Published:
Mar 14, 2019 11:17 IST

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