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Consuming Liquor In A Private Vehicle In A Place Accessible To Public Is Punishable Under Bihar Excise Act : SC [Read Judgment]

Manu Sebastian
1 July 2019 12:37 PM GMT
Consuming Liquor In A Private Vehicle In A Place Accessible To Public Is Punishable Under Bihar Excise Act : SC [Read Judgment]
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The Court also held that any person who is found drunk in Bihar can be punished, even though he may have consumed alcohol outside the state.

The Supreme Court has held that a private vehicle is not exempted from the definition of 'public place' under the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act 2016.This means that consumption of liquor within a private vehicle in a public place will be an offence under the prohibition laws in Bihar.The ruling was given by a bench of Justices Ashok Bhuhsan and K M Joseph in the case Satvinder Singh v...

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The Supreme Court has held that a private vehicle is not exempted from the definition of 'public place' under the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act 2016.

This means that consumption of liquor within a private vehicle in a public place will be an offence under the prohibition laws in Bihar.

The ruling was given by a bench of Justices Ashok Bhuhsan and K M Joseph in the case Satvinder Singh v State of Bihar while dismissing an appeal filed against the refusal of the Patna High Court to exercise powers under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to quash the charge-sheet filed against the appellants.

The appellants were charge-sheeted under Section 53(a) of the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act 2016 on the ground that they were found drunk inside a private vehicle by the excise party at Rajauli checkpost in Bihar. The appellants were travelling from Giridih in Jharkhand, where they had gone to attend a Rotary Club meeting. 

Their arguments for quashing the chargesheet were two fold :

  • Section 53(a), which punishes drinking in public place, is not applicable as private car is not a public place.
  • They cannot be punished under the Bihar laws for consuming alcohol in Jharkhand.

The SC rejected the first argument on the basis of statutory definitions of 'public place' under the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act 2016 and Bihar Prohibition and Exchise Act 2016.

As per Section 2(17A) of the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act "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".

According to the Court, the key word in the definition was "access". Any place to which public have access, whether as a matter of right or not, is a public place.

It observed that public can have access to a private vehicle in a road. The Court noted that 'access' has been defined in Black's Law Dictionary as "A right, opportunity, or ability to enter, approach, pass to and from, or communicate with access to the courts." 

"When private vehicle is passing through a public road it cannot be accepted that public have no access. It is true that public may not have access to private vehicle as matter of right but definitely public have opportunity to approach the private vehicle while it is on the public road. Hence, we are not able to accept the submission that vehicle in which appellants are travelling is not covered by definition of 'public place' as defined in Section 2(17A) of the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act, 2016", said the judgment authored by Justice Bhushan.

The bench further added :

"The ommission of public conveyance in the definition of Section 2(17A) brought by the Bihar Excise (Amendment)Act, 2016 also indicates that the difference between public conveyance and private conveyance was done away in the statutory amendment. We, thus, cannot accept the submission of the learned counsel for the appellant that private conveyance will be excluded from the definition of 'public place' as contained in Section 2(17A)".

The top court also took into account the fact that the definition of 'public place' under Section 2(53) of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act 2016 specifically included means of transport, both public and private.

Any person who is found drunk in Bihar can be punished

The second argument of the appellants was that under Section 53(a), it is only the consumption of alcohol within Bihar which was made punishable.

With respect to this, the bench observed that the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act 2016 has created a new class of offence. Section 37(b) of it punishes anyone who is "found" drunk within Bihar.

"as per Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 even a person consumes liquor outside the State of Bihar and enter into the territory of Bihar and is found drunk or in a state of drunkenness, he can be charged with offences under Section 37(b)", the Court said.

However, the Court said that the issue whether they had consumed alcohol within Bihar or not was a question of fact, which cannot be decided in an appeal from a proceeding under Section 482 CrPC.

Therefore, the appeal was dismissed, giving liberty to the appellants to seek discharge from the Magistrate on the second issue.

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