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Consumption Of Liquor Outside Bihar- A Crime

Alan V. Avanesh and Shambhavi Moghe, Nyayshastram

Introduction

The Supreme court in July 2019 held that in the case of a private car traveling on a public road, the road can be deemed as a ‘public place’ as such private vehicles can be accessed by the public[1]. The public may not have the access to such a private vehicle as a matter of right, but the public may have the opportunity to access the private vehicle. The judgment may have far-reaching effects as all the activities which were carried on in the public under the defense of it being a private vehicle or transport now with effect to this judgment had to stop. For example, smoking in a private vehicle on a public road could now be made punishable.

In the case decided by Ashok Bhushan and K M Joseph JJ., Satvinder Singh and Ors. Vs. State of Bihar[2], the appellants when subjected to a breath analyser test and after failing such test, , were punished by the judicial magistrate when he took the cognizance in Newada district. The Appellants in this present case, prayed to quash the criminal proceedings against them.


Background

Possession and consumption of liquor or any intoxicant is not a crime in most of the states in our country. However, states like Gujrat, Mizoram, and the particular ‘infamous’ state of Bihar for having a much higher rate of crime because of: higher level of intoxicated public i.e. dwelled in alcoholic beverages, liquor, intoxicants, and lower literacy rate; to the rate of crime, corruption. The renowned Janta Dal Party member Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar took bold steps by bringing the amendment in the year 2016 in Bihar Excise Act 1915[3], making the possession and consumption of liquor in public places.


Facts of the case:

The Appellants were travelling from Girdih, Jharkhand to Patna, Bihar to attend a rotary meeting. The Appellants’ vehicle was stopped at Rajauli check post, Newada district for regular check by a Sub-inspector Excise in outer of Bihar and were subjected to breath analyser test. The person sitting in the passengers’ seat was tested positive as a certain amount of alcohol was found. However, no intoxicants or alcohol were found in their possession neither the driver was intoxicated. The police lodged the first information report and booked them under Section 53(a) of Bihar excise(amendment) act 2016 and kept in the custody for two days. The judicial magistrate of Newada took cognizance of the same. The appellants through application prayed for setting aside the order under section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973[4].

The appellants then went to the Patna High Court for the issuance or considering their application for setting aside of the order issued by the learned Newada Judicial Magistrate. The Patna High Court vide its order dismissed the application under section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code. Aggrieved by which, the present appeal has been filed.


Analysis

The Judgement given by the Apex Court is appropriate to an extent. The main question was whether the state prohibited possession and consumption of any intoxicants in a ‘private conveyance’. Even though the words ‘private vehicle’ or ‘private conveyance’ were not defined but the definition of ‘place’ includes vehicle and the same should apply for ‘public vehicle’ while interpreting ‘public place’. As per the section 2(17A) Bihar Excise Act 1915[5], whether or not as the matter of right but ‘access to the public place’ includes all places accessible and visited by the public and also includes the open space. The vehicle in which the Appellants were travelling was a private vehicle, when it was stopped for a routine check, it was the public road, that means here, the access of the public to the vehicle could not be ignored. The court referred to the case of Manikandan vs. State of Kerala[6] , where the accused was not liable as section 15C was not attracted because the vehicle in which they were doing illegal activity by consuming liquor, was a private vehicle and even though it was standing and parked on the public road. The section 15C was later amended.

The Bihar Excise Act of 1915[7] did not prohibit of possession or consumption but later through the notifications issued by the State government did defined consumption. The Bihar state policy of 2015[8] had intended to the total or complete prohibition of possession and consumption of liquor, by implementing the policy in a phased manner. After the implementation of the Bihar Excise (Amendment)Act 2016[9]; the previous notifications stand irrelevant.

The question that arose was whether the appellants have violated the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act 2016. They contended that because the consumption was not done in the territory of the state of Bihar, they cannot be held liable for such action. The court clarified and held after noting that Section 53 of the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act 2016 defines the punishment for consumption of liquor in public places. And it is upon the learned judicial magistrate to look into the matter and decide after looking into the materials brought on record by the means of the charge sheet.


Conclusion

This judgment in the present case can be called as the partial victory of the appellants as the judgement stated “A person who consumes liquor in a different state cannot be fastened with a penalty under section 53(a) unless there is some evidence to prove that consumption of liquor by the accused has taken place in the state of Bihar”. The appeal was then disposed, and the right of the appellant was recognised. And was held that the appellants should be at the liberty to file an application for discharge before the judicial magistrate.

It is on the government to bring effective changes by bringing the required amendments in the already existing statutes in order to curb the social evil and to achieve the desired aim. Any alterations made in the statutes and Acts must be clear so that there arises no ambiguity or chaotic situation. And the offences, punishments stated in the Acts and Amendments should be clearly defined without ambiguity.


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[1] Jain, Ritika; Judiciary: A private car on public road is a public place, rulesSC.”The Print, Last seen on 02/11/2020.

[2] AIR 2019 SC 3274

[3] "Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act, 2016" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 August 2016

[4] Saving of inherent powers of High Court. Nothing in this Code shall be deemed to limit or affect the inherent powers of the High Court to make such orders as may be necessary to give effect to any order under this Code, or to prevent abuse of the process of any Court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice.

[5] [(17A) Public Place means any place to which public have access, whether as a matter of right or not and includes all places visited by general public and also includes any open space.]

[6] 1999 (2) KLJ 188

[7] Bihar Excise Act, 1915(Bihar and Orissa Act 2 of 1915). 19th January,1916.

[8] Mishra, Akansha; Case Comment: Satvinder Singh Saluja vs. State of Bihar, Legaldesire.com (20/09/2020), last seen on 02/11/2020.

[9] "Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act, 2016" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 August 2016.