Bihar anti-liquor law: SC issues notice, transfers pleas to itself

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Bihar government to respond to petitions challenging the Constitutional validity of its controversial prohibition law — The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 — within three weeks.

A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and C T Ravikumar also transferred similar petitions pending before Patna High Court to the SC. The court said that since “identical issue is pending consideration before this court, it is appropriate that the other writ petitions filed before the High Court to be transferred and heard along with the SLP pending here”.

Hearing the petitions, including one by the International Spirits and Wines Association of India, the bench said all of them question the validity of the prohibition law. “The reply has been filed before Patna High Court and now it cannot be improved,” it said. “You file your affidavit. Same arguments, same affidavit and same material will be relevant in all cases, as the validity is under challenge in all of them.”

The court will now hear the matter in the first week of April.

While rejecting 40 appeals filed by the state government against grant of anticipatory and regular bail by the HC to those charged under the law, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana had on January 11 expressed concern over the impact of the law on the working of the courts.

“You know how much impact this law has created in the working of Patna High Court and it is taking one year to get a matter listed there and all the courts are choked with the liquor bail matters…I have been told that 14-15 high court judges are hearing these bail matters every day and no other matters are being taken up,” the CJI had remarked.

The CJI had also highlighted the issue while delivering a lecture in Vijayawada in December last year.

Underlining the importance of impact assessment and basic scrutiny of Constitutionality before passing of a legislation. he had said that “a lack of foresight in legislating can directly result in the clogging of courts” and cited the case of the Bihar prohibition law. “For example, the introduction of the Bihar Prohibition Act 2016 resulted in the High Court being clogged with bail applications. Because of this, a simple bail application takes one year to be disposed of,” he had said.

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