Patna: In a relief to liquor manufacturers in Bihar, Patna High Court on Wednesday directed the state government not to take any coercive action against them for keeping a stock of liquor.
A division bench of justices Navaniti Prasad Singh and Chakradhari Sharan Singh passed the interim order on a bunch of petitions by liquor manufacturers, bar owners and others challenging the state government's decision to ban sale and consumption of alcohol in the state.
It passed the order following the undertaking furnished by Principal Additional Advocate General Lalit Kishore, who appeared for the state government, that the government would neither destroy liquor stocks nor force the manufacturers take back those lying with state-run Bihar State Beverages Corporation Ltd (BSBCL) till the final disposal of the petitions.
The government had earlier given an ultimatum to the manufacturers to take back their liquor stock lying in the warehouses of BSBCL failing which all these stocks would be destroyed.
The court, however, refused to grant a stay on the notification issued by the government which put a blanket ban on the manufacture, sale, consumption of liquor in the state.
Posting the matter for hearing on April 19, the court directed listing of the matter before the appropriate bench for further hearing.
The petitions were filed after the Nitish Kumar cabinet's decision to impose total ban on sale and consumption of liquor, including Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) in the state with immediate effect on April 5.
The petitioners who were represented by lawyers including Vikas Singh, Y V Giri, Satyabir Bharti and Ibrahim Kabir told the court that the New Excise Policy (NEP) clearly talked about imposing ban on alcohol in a phase wise manner.
The state government followed the policy of phase-wise ban on country and spiced liquor from April 1, but not in the case of IMFL.
Bar operators had taken licence for the entire financial year of 2016-17 after depositing the requisite fee as well as tax and also purchased IMFL to be sold in the state but the government imposed a complete ban on April 5, they contended.
The petition described the penal provision in the Amended Excise Act of Bihar, which was passed in the state legislature on March 30, as "draconian, arbitrary and mala fide" as it violated Article 14, 19, 21 and 22 of Constitution.
Under the Act, if anyone is found manufacturing or trading illicit liquor that causes death in the state, the person would be awarded with up to capital punishment.