SC to hear Bihar’s plea against HC verdict quashing prohibition policy

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New Delhi, Oct 3 (IANS) The Supreme Court will hear, on October 7, the Bihar government’s plea challenging the Patna High Court verdict quashing its policy prohibiting the distribution and consumption of liquor in the state.

The bench of Chief Justice T.S.Thakur, Justice C. Nagappan and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar agreed to hear the state government’s plea after senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan mentioned it for an early hearing.

The Bihar government, in its petition, said that the principal question was whether the state can prohibit distribution and consumption of liquor and whether the individual citizen can claim right to consume liquor as a fundamental right as guaranteed under Constitution’s Article 21.

The high court, by its September 30 judgment and order, had declared ultra vires the Section 19(4) of the Bihar Excise Act, 1915 and the notification prohibiting liquor in the State.

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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 the 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, said the petition by the state government, pointing out that the prohibition policy has been appreciated by a large number of people especially women.

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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.

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