Fix judicial backlog: Bihar prohibition cases underline government role

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In a clear case of unthinking policy leading to cascading problems, the Patna high court has pulled up the Bihar government for leaving an already burdened judiciary saddled with more than two lakh prohibition-related cases, including nearly 40,000 bail petitions pending with the HC alone. Till date a whopping 1.67 lakh people have been arrested on charges of violating the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016. Combined with the fact that bail is granted in more than 90% of the cases that come up for hearing, it’s clear how government is responsible for this judicial pileup.

Prohibition is an old political obsession that has never worked. It has been a global experience that whenever government has tried to ban alcohol, the industry is pushed underground. This in turn leads to other problems such as spurious liquor. So it is the case with Bihar where 52 lakh litres of alcohol have been seized till date, showing demand and supply continue to flow unbridled. Meanwhile, it’s the judiciary which is stuck with mounting prohibition-related cases, delaying justice for the common man.

As a matter of fact, government – both Centre and states – is the largest litigant involved in at least 46% of the cases with courts. This includes cases involving two government wings or PSUs. Since government in India functions in various shapes and forms, it’s imperative to have a high degree of coordination to lessen intra-governmental issues landing in court. But the least that should be done to unclog the system is not make policies that are sure to end in copious litigation – prohibition is certainly one such policy. Unburdening the judiciary will not just ensure speedier justice, especially for the poor, but also help government with decision making on issues that are stuck in court. Government must help itself here.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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