Prohibition fine imposed on village in Nitish's home district could trigger migration
A village in the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's home district of Nalanda seems to have become the first victim of Bihar's newly-passed anti-booze law.
Nalanda's District Magistrate has imposed a collective fine on Kailashpuri for breaking the provisions of the law. The decision has triggered a panic among the residents of this Dalit majority village with locals now preparing to migrate to other locations.
The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act 2016, passed this month, has been widely criticised for its stringent provisions. It provides for a fine of Rs 1 lakh to 5 lakh on villages flouting the liquor prohibition.
Action has been initiated under the law in about half-a-dozen villages of Bhagalpur, Sheikhpura, Munger and other districts. But, none of these villages has been penalised so far. Kailashpuri is the first village in the state to be fined under the law.
First to be pulled up
According to the district administration, liquor trade was continuing unabated in this village falling under Ranipur Panchayat of Islampur block despite repeated attempts on the part of the local authorities to persuade the residents of Kailashpuri.
Therefore, the administration decided to impose a fine on the advice of the police and the excise department.
Kailashpuri has around 50 families and each of them would be required to pay Rs 5,000 to the authorities. Notices to this effect have already been served to the families.
The Nalanda DM SM Tyagarajan claims the administration tried to reason out with the residents of Kailashpuri on many occasions, but to no avail.
The local authorities were forced to take this step after a team of excise officials was attacked in the village last month.
"We were continuously receiving complaints of liquor trade from Kailashpuri. Five raids have been conducted over the past five months. Equipment used for producing country liquor and bottles of alcohol were seized during every raid. We waged awareness campaign in the village, issues notices and warnings to the villagers. However, there is a collective tendency against liquor prohibition in the village. This is the reason we were left with no other option, but to impose fine," Tyagarajan says.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar made his stand on the prohibition issue clear with his Facebook post on Thursday -
Residents of Kailashpuri, on the other hand, contradict Tyagrjan's claim. They blame anti-social elements for the trade and complain that they have been asked to pay for their activities. There is anger among the villagers against the administration's decision.
Kailashpuri is mainly comprised of the members of Beldar caste. Most of them work as landless labourers in surrounding areas. A sum of Rs 5,000 is too much to bear for most of the families and they are now looking to move out of the village to escape the fine.
58-year-old Chameli Devi is one such resident of Kailashpuri. She works as a domestic help with an affluent family in the neighbouring village. "Why am I being punished, when I have harmed nobody," she asks.
"I have never touched alcohol in my life. Nobody in my family takes liquor. We make our ends meet through hard labour. Then, why are we being treated as criminals? The police should punish the guilty. How will I fetch such a hefty amount," Chameli Devi laments.
Chameli's elder son Surender Kumar is a landless labourer. "The police know who the culprit is. They have full information about the houses where the liquor is made. Instead of arresting those people, they are framing us. Will the people indulging in liquor trade stop their activities because of a fine imposed on us?" he asks.
Suresh Kumar, who teaches in the village school, shares the same angst. He demands an equally severe fine against the cops who have failed to stop the illegal liquor trade in the village.
Why are cops not being fined?
The new law mandates suspension of police officers who fail to curb the liquor trade. According to the law, such cops will not get an appointment in any other police station for the next 10 years.
The state government has recently invoked this provision to suspend 19 police personnel.
Although, this action proved to be an embarrassment for the government. The Bihar Police Association vehemently opposed the move.
As many as 250 SHOs of Kaimur, Rohtas, Aurangabad and Bhojpur districts requested the government to relieve them of their duty.
"The decision to suspend the police officers is wrong. We have talked to the DGP. He has told the suspended officers to write to him through their respective Superintendents of Police. We have called a meeting of our working committee on 28 August. We will launch a statewide agitation if the action is not revoked by that time," says Mrityunjay Singh, the President of the Bihar Police Association.
This threat notwithstanding, the police headquarters has asked all the SHOs to strictly implement the law and threatened action those found wanting the discharge of this duty.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen