Empty bottles of liquor were discovered inside the premises of the legislature in dry Bihar, in a fresh embarrassment to the Nitish Kumar government in the state, which has been drawing flak over recent hooch tragedies that have claimed more than 40 lives.
The bottles were found under a tree in the area earmarked as parking lot for two-wheelers. The news spread like wildfire during lunch hour.
Leader of the opposition Tejashwi Yadav rushed to survey the spot and launched a blistering attack on the government when the assembly resumed business.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar grimly told the House, “This is such an unacceptable thing. I am ordering the chief secretary and the DGP to thoroughly investigate the matter. The guilty must not be spared.”
Chief Secretary Tripurari Sharan and Director General of Police S K Singhal reached the spot soon afterwards, collected the bottles for examination and hinted at a conspiracy angle.
“Beyond the working hours of the House, security arrangements are not as intensive. Somebody seems to have taken advantage of the same with a specific motive which needs to be found out. To call the incident a security breach is, however, not appropriate,” Sharan told reporters.
Singhal added: “Unfortunately there is no CCTV camera installed close to the spot, which could give a clue about who brought these bottles inside.
“Nonetheless, we have sent these for forensic examination. Experts from the excise department have also been roped in to ascertain the material that might have been contained in the bottles”.
More than one leader of the ruling NDA, however, expressed suspicion that the bottles might have been kept at the spot by leaders of the RJD to defame the government.
“The guilty will not be spared. But, I suspect the RJD is behind the mischief,” said Neeraj Kumar Bablu, a BJP MLA who is also the state minister for environment and forestry.
BJP MLC Naval Kishore Yadav echoed similar views, saying nobody was found drinking at the spot, and some old bottles were thrown there.
Meanwhile, leader of the opposition Tejashwi Yadav fumed upon inspecting the site. “This is outrageous. The spot is less than 100 metres away from the CM's chamber,” he said.
Earlier, Yadav had expressed outrage over bottles being found at a spot “less than 100 metres from the chief minister's chamber..... just a day after he presided over a farce wherein NDA legislators took the pledge, inside the central hall here, against liquor consumption”.
Asked if he favoured a repeal of the prohibition law, which his father Lalu Prasad claims to have been opposed to, Yadav told reporters, “We are in favour of complete ‘nashabandi' (non-consumption of intoxicants).”
Upon being pointed out that the ruling NDA has been accusing RJD leaders of involvement in illicit liquor trade, he remarked sarcastically that if they come out with the theory that “we had planted the bottles inside the premises, we will not be surprised”.
On the floor of the House, the RJD leader, who is also a former deputy CM, asked his former boss Kumar to ensure that lower-level officials are not made scapegoats and the big fish do not go unpunished.
Sale and consumption of alcohol was completely banned in Bihar in April, 2016. The drastic move followed a promise made by Kumar to women of the state during the assembly elections of 2015, which his JD(U) had fought in alliance with the RJD and Congress.
However, bootlegging has been thriving in the state since then and opposition leaders claim that while the poor often ended up being punished for flouting prohibition, those with resources were getting liquor delivered to their homes.
Last month, more than 40 people had died in West Champaran, Gopalganj, Muzaffarpur and Samastipur districts after consuming spurious liquor.
A review meeting was subsequently held by the chief minister, where police officials were warned of severe punishment if they were found to be lax in implementing prohibition.
This has led to instances of high-handed behaviour by policemen who have rounded up professionals coming from outside and consuming liquor unmindful of the law here, and conducted searches inside marriage venues, triggering a public outcry.