Patna: The Patna High Court has flagged the growing number of excise cases filed ever since Chief Minister Nitish Kumar imposed Prohibition in the state in 2016.
A division bench headed by Justice Anil Kumar Upadhyay Wednesday observed that as of 8 July, there are nearly 2.08 lakh cases related to anti-liquor laws pending in various lower courts in Bihar.
The court issued a notice to the Bihar government, asking it to explain how it proposes to dispose of the cases and if it plans to appoint new judges and ensure new courts that deal only with violations of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016.
The principal secretary of the Bihar home department has been asked to respond by 25 September.
“The cases have increased the burden on the court manifold and as such, the home secretary is required to assist the court on how the state government wishes to tackle the problem of increased litigation,” the bench said in an oral order. “The problem of increased litigation has a telling effect on docket management.”
The state government in its affidavit had itself admitted that only 2,629 cases related to liquor violations have been disposed of so far.
On the increasing number of cases, the court maintained, “The figure of pendency indicates that it has reached alarming proportions and in the absence of adequate court, judicial officers and support staff, the case management is impossible.”
The staggering numbers under Prohibition
The figures quoted in the order have been compiled by the high court’s registrar general.
Of the 2,07,786 cases pending cases, 28,593 have been filed in Patna alone.
The figures also show that since total Prohibition was introduced in the state in 2016, around 1.67 lakh people have been arrested and 22,467 vehicles have been seized for carrying liquor. The figures also state that illegal liquor worth around Rs 54 lakh has been seized.
“At present, there is one special court in each district that disposes of cases relating to liquor law violations. The grievance of the Patna High Court is genuine,” said lawyer Arvind Ujjwal, appearing for the government.
“There are already over 24 lakh cases pending in the lower courts of Bihar. Around 1.5 lakh cases are pending in the Patna High Court,” Ujjwal added. “The anti-liquor law cases are only adding up to the pressure. There are not enough judges and courts to dispose of them.”
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had rolled out the Prohibition laws in 2016, facing flak and being feted for the decision. The opposition hit out at the laws dubbing them as being draconian and alleging that they were transforming Bihar into a police state.
The chief minister has, however, stood his ground stating that his step has led to a decrease in domestic violence, public brawls and road accidents. He has maintained that it is proving a boon for the underprivileged as they are saving money used to buy liquor.