In a jolt to the Bihar government, the Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed its batch of appeals challenging grant of anticipatory and regular bails to accused under the state’s stringent liquor law, saying these matters have choked courts and 14-15 Patna high court judges are hearing these cases only.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana rejected the contention of the Bihar government that guidelines be framed to ensure reasoned bail orders are passed taking into account the quantity of liquor seized from an accused.
”You know how much impact this law (The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 ) has created in the working of the 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,” the chief justice said.
”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,” Justice Ramana observed while rejecting as many as 40 appeals of the state government against grant of anticipatory and regular matters by the high court.
The observations assume significance as the Chief Justice of India (CJI) recently at a function at Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh had referred to the Bihar liquor prohibition law and had said that it has resulted in filing of a lot of bail applications in courts and the state high court.
The CJI had said that the lack of foresight in legislating can directly result in the blockage of courts.
During the hearing, advocate Manish Kumar, appearing for the Bihar government, said the grievance was that the high court has granted bails to accused, involved in serious breach of the statute, without assigning reasons despite the fact that the law provides for 10 years jail tern to life imprisonment for serious offences under it.
Some of the accused have been found transporting or selling “400 to 500 litres of liquor” and yet bail has been granted in a mechanical manner only after they have been in jails for four-five months, he said.
“My problem is that consistently, bail orders are being passed by the high court in liquor matters only on the basis of some period spent in jail,” Kumar said, adding that it has created some problems with the “working of the Act”.
The CJI quipped, “So according to you, we should not be granting bail just because, you have made a law.” The bench then referred to the Indian Penal Code provision on murder and said bails and sometimes, anticipatory bail also are granted by the courts in these cases.
“The offence which you are saying that some 800, 200 or 300 litres of liquor have been seized from the persons… in some cases the bail were granted in 2017,” the bench said, adding that the law and consequential cases have adversely impacted the docket of courts in the state.
The bench asked the state government to pursue the trial as it has filed the charge sheet in these cases after completing the investigation.
While rejecting the appeals, the apex court noted that the bail was granted by the high court in these cases in 2017 only and hence, it will not be proper for it to deal with the pleas now.
As per Bihar police records, 3,48,170 cases were lodged and 4,01,855 arrests made under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise law until October last year and about 20,000 bail pleas in such cases are pending disposal either in the high court or in district courts.