Monday, 7 November 2016

Bihar Government Seeks Suggetions from People on Prohibition and Excise Act 2016

Government of Bihar, as a result of public criticism has invited through an advertisement constructive suggestions on its Prohibition and Excise Act 2016. The suggestions have to be sent by 12th of November 2016 to the following email id:

 It is in response to this advertisement that I have sent some suggestions to the Government of Bihar as follows: [Readers may recall that earlier I had written a blog post examining the Act: ]


The Secretary,                                                                        
Registration, Excise and Prohibition Department,     
Government of Bihar.                                                

Subject: Invitation of public opinion/suggestions by the Excise and Prohibition Department, Government of Bihar on the Prohibition and Excise Act 2016.

Dear Sir,

I appreciate the initiative of the Government of Bihar to seek public opinion and constructive suggestions on the provisions of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act 2016 as reported in several newspapers   and

In response to the Government of Bihar’s initiative, I wish to make the following suggestions as a practicing social worker and a student of social science for the past thirty years.

1.     Review of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act 2016: It is important that the Act[1] is reviewed fully because this Act criminalises those who turn substance dependent due to social, economic, as well as psychological problems. The punishments for possession, consumption, storage or transportation of even a small quantity of alcohol or such substance under the Act are draconian in nature towards the individual, his/her family and community. This Act leaves no scope whatsoever for warning, correction, mitigation, reformation, rehabilitation and probation of a person who is substance/alcohol dependent or a person in possession of alcohol or other intoxicating substances. Along with the substance dependents, it criminalizes social/moderate users as well. Besides, it has the scope of considering the family of substance dependent, criminal too, with strict punishments. It has severe provisions like arrest without warrant, confiscation of premises, sealing of premises, etc. where any crime under this act is said to have been committed. Furthermore it has the provision of collective fine for the “wrong doing” of individual/individuals in an area and the whole community living there could be held responsible for repeat offenses under the Act. Besides, a lot of powers are given to the collector and even the police that could be misused. 
2.  Formation of a Review Committee: In order to review the Act, it is important that the Government of Bihar forms an independent review committee. The review committee should have members of standing from different fields and different walks of life such as lawyers, representatives of women’s organizations and other NGOs, doctors, as well as members of organizations working on the issues of substance dependence, de-addiction, treatment and rehabilitation of drug/alcohol dependents. Sufficient time and resources should be made available to this committee to be able to work effectively and independently. The working of the review committee should be time bound. There are many examples of formation of such review commissions/ committees that examine issues, laws, projects, etc. affecting the lives of the people. Lessons from such review committees could be taken for the effective formation and functioning of a committee to review the Act. 
  3.   Public hearings: As part of the review process, the review committee as well as the Government of Bihar should organise public hearings to seek suggestions on the Act from different stake holders, particularly women. Public hearings among those communities and castes for whom alcohol brewing and use is also a part of social, cultural and religious practice/rite should be organised. Public hearings are important as large number of people may not be able to respond to the provisions of this Act and give suggestions in writing. For effective consultations, the Act should be made available to all stake holders in simple language and sufficient time given to the people to respond.

 4. Consultations: The review committee apart from public hearings should also consult people of repute who have been working in the field of treatment and rehabilitation of those dependent on substance/drugs and alcohol. One such organisation of standing that has been working on this issue for the past thirty years in Maharashtra is Muktangan . There are many such organisations spread across the country and it is important that their experience and knowledge is taken on board. 

    5. Study of material and laws: Studies, other material as well as laws pertaining to prohibition and provisions for rehabilitation of those dependent on drugs existing in different States across the country should be studied both by the Government and the review committee.  

6.  Substance dependence not a criminal offence: While the process of in-depth study, analysis and consultation on the Act is being undertaken by the independent review committee, and till such time as the review committee submits its report, I request that the Government of Bihar considers substance dependence a social-economic issue/problem and not a criminal offence. 
   7.  Social awareness, economic support and reform: I request the Government of Bihar to undertake social awareness, social support and social as well as economic reform measures to check drug/alcohol dependence, rather than severe punitive actions aimed at the victim/dependent and his/her family. 

    8.  Suspension of punitive measures under the Act: Substance dependence requires counselling, social and medical support, de-addiction and rehabilitation centres and not jails/imprisonment. I therefore request the Government of Bihar to put on hold the punitive measures under the Act till an independent review of the Act is completed. 

    9.  Release from jails: Till such time as the review of the Act is completed, I request the Government of Bihar to release all substance dependents, etc. incarcerated under this Act so far and focus on their treatment and rehabilitation as well as economic support to their families.
10. Broader Plan: I request the Government of Bihar to have a broader plan that could be implemented over the next five years for social and economic advancement of the masses to check the problem of substance dependence.The government should also establish more counselling, treatment and rehabilitation centers as well as family support systems to address this issue.   

Thanking you,
Nandini Oza

[1] Act here means the Bihar’s Prohibition and Excise Act 2016 unless specified otherwise.

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