SC stays Patna HC order quashing liquor ban in Bihar

New Delhi, Oct 7 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Patna High Court order quashing the Bihar government’s ban on liquor.

A bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit gave the respondents – Confederation of Indian Alcholic Beverage Companies and others – six weeks time to respond, and gave the Bihar government four weeks’ time to file its rejoinder.

The stay of the high court order came on a petition by the Bihar government which contended that it made the choice to impose prohibition in view of the prevailing social conditions.

The bench directed the hearing of the matter after 10 weeks.

Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Confederation, told the court not to stay the high court’s order as because of the new law, the whole prohibition policy was in operation in the state.

Singhvi told the court that the high court, had by its September 30 order, quashed the notification prohibiting the bottling, sale, distribution and consumption of liquor and the state government brought a new law on October 2.

He also told the court that new law reinforcing the prohibition has not been challenged so far.

However, the unimpressed bench stayed the operation of the high court order, which had declared ultra vires Section 19(4) of the Bihar Excise Act, 1915 and the notification prohibiting liquor in the State.

It had also declared as ultra vires the provisions providing for enhanced sentence and confiscation of property of those violating the prohibition policy.

The Bihar government has contended that as a consequence of the high court order, its effort to have complete prohibition in the state in pursuance to its obligations under Article 47 of the Directive Principles of State Policy stood frustrated.

The petition has contended that the high court had declared void Section 19(4) without taking into account the mandate of Article 47 which says that it is the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.

The ban on liquor is a deterrent and consumption of liquor in Bihar is not in the public interest, says the petition by the state government, pointing out that the prohibition policy has been appreciated by a large number of people especially women.

It says that prohibition policy has come as a succour for the families which are hit hard by the consumption of liquor as it drains family incomes, entails debts and is ruinous to health.

Pointing out that prohibition policy had in no way adversely affected the manufacturing and bottling of the liquor as the same is not covered under the prohibition, the petition says that by April 18, notification, the state government had decided to provide complete exemption of the export duty on ethanol and ENA produced by the distilleries and breweries.

This is besides the refund of their various license fees deposited by them except the license fees concerning the manufacturing activities.

On the licensee fees paid by the bar and restaurant owners, the petition says that the state government has committed to purchase all their stocks at the same rate on which they were purchased and refund their license fees.

–IANS

pk/vd

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