New Delhi: Facing flak from the Opposition for the deaths of over 40 people after consumption of spurious liquor, the Nitish Kumar government has sought to tighten prohibition in Bihar, putting the onus of implementation and intelligence-gathering on the state police. Now, station house officers (SHOs) and chowkidars — village watchmen — can face strict action for any laxity.
On Tuesday, the CM held a marathon review meeting with top officials and ministers that lasted seven hours. The message was simple: Government officials conniving in illegal liquor trade would be dealt with an iron hand.
“The chief minister gave several instructions. To identify the routes in bordering areas from where liquor flows into Bihar, strengthen intelligence-gathering, and then identify police stations where no action has been taken on prohibition,” Chaitanya Prasad, Additional Chief Secretary, Home Department, told ThePrint.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Bihar Director General of Police (DGP) S.K. Singhal said the onus of implementation will fall on officers in-charge of police stations and the chowkidars.
“If a central team visiting from Patna recovers liquor from the local police station’s jurisdiction, the in-charge will be suspended and he will not be posted in a police station for the next 10 years. If he is found conniving in the illegal liquor trade, he will be dismissed from service,” Singhal said.
The chowkidar, he added, will be held responsible for not reporting illegal liquor trade and such acts. “The local police officers have been asked to coordinate with chowkidars in gathering intelligence,” he said.
Over 40 people have died in four districts ― Muzaffarpur, West Champaran, Gopalganj and Vaishali ― this year due to country-made liquor.
Opposition questions Nitish’s review meetings
After the CM held the review meeting, Opposition leaders showed disapproval of such moves.
Ahead of the meeting, Leader of the Opposition in the assembly Tejashwi Yadav asked Nitish a series of questions, seeking details of steps taken after previous review meetings, which the CM holds routinely.
“If no action was taken on the CM’s direction, it is the failure of the CM,” Tejashwi said in a statement. “You have put in jail lakhs of downtrodden for violating the law but please specify the number of bootleggers put in jail,” he added, asking why higher-rank police officers have not been dismissed.
He claimed around 80 per cent of police constables suspended for violating the law have been reinstated.
Yadav said that even Nitish allies like former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state president Sanjay Jaiswal have criticised the implementation of prohibition in Bihar. He alleged that members of the ruling party — the Janata Dal (United) — were involved in the liquor trade.
Even state Congress chief Madan Mohan Jha questioned the utility of review meetings.
Scepticism about move
Bihar implemented prohibition in 2016. Yet, in the January-October period this year, around 50,000 fresh cases related to violation of the liquor law have been registered, Bihar excise department data shows.
In the same period, around 38 lakh litres of illegal liquor has been seized and 1,200 vehicles impounded for allegedly carrying illegal liquor.
Last year, the National Family Health Survey-5 report for 2019-20 indicated that 15.5 per cent of Bihar’s male population consumes liquor.
“It is hardly surprising that Nitish’s dry laws are mocked by everyone,” Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Shivanand Tiwari told ThePrint.
The steps announced Tuesday also seem to have failed to inspire confidence.
A retired DGP said on the condition of anonymity that “the 10-year bar for a police officer in charge was introduced in 2017 and 11 OICs were suspended”.
“All of them were reinstated by the court’s order. Even the chowkidar is likely to remain ineffective. The chowkidar is usually a local resident of the village. He is unlikely to risk his life by passing on information about his own villagers,” he added.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)