Prohibition leads to heady political dramas in Gujarat

AAP leader says law being used against him to settle scores; at least seven petitions in High Court challenging the legislation

January 22, 2022 11:02 pm | Updated 11:08 pm IST - New Delhi

Double-edged sword: The law allows officials to search homes and make arrests without a warrant.

Double-edged sword: The law allows officials to search homes and make arrests without a warrant.

Isudan Gadhvi, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader in Gujarat, was in for a shock when a forensic report found traces of alcohol in his blood, after he was arrested by the State police for protesting at the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) headquarters in Gandhinagar on December 20. Two BJP women members said in their complaint to the police that Mr. Gadhvi and others had showed up drunk — a crime in Gujarat. On January 2, the Gujarat police slapped additional Sections — 66(1)(b) and 85 (1) under the Gujarat Prohibition Act — against Mr. Gadhvi after it received a forensic report that his blood sample had 0.0545 w/v (weight per volume) alcohol concentration. The permissible limit is 0.05 w/v.

Mr. Gadhvi says he has been a teetotaler all his life, and was framed — bringing to the fore a new question of policing political protests. The use of the sedition law and UAPA against political opponents of governments remains hugely controversial in India. “I am dismayed at the forensic report. I have filed an application with the police station to preserve the blood sample, I want to get it checked from an independent agency. The police, at the behest of the ruling party, is trying to tarnish my image and foist false cases against me because I joined AAP,” he said.

He said that he could secure bail after getting legal help from party colleagues from Delhi. “They secured bail for me….the legal team told me my case was unprecedented and they had never heard anyone being booked for such an offence. I was told that sometimes when one consumes medicine or bajra (maize), then also the blood content could show erroneous alcohol results,” Mr. Gadhvi told The Hindu by phone.

Mr. Gadhvi said his consent was taken before drawing the blood sample, but the police can force people to give their blood samples or DNA specimen as per law. According to R.K, Vij, former special Director-General of Police, Chhattisgarh, the police have such powers under Sections 53 and 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Mr. Gadhvi’s counsel Pranav Thakkar said they had demanded a copy of the forensic report and asked the police to preserve the blood sample slides. “The protest happened in front of over 500 people, it is hard to digest that they landed there in a drunken state. The police acted under political pressure it seems.”

Gandhinagar Superintendent of Police Mayur Chavda did not respond to calls or messages if police has taken a decision to preserve Mr. Gadhvi’s blood sample.

In Gujarat, any officer empowered by the State government “may enter at any time by day or by night, any place including homes of people if he or she has reason to believe that any intoxicant is kept or concealed in the premises”. The Act also empowers the officers to arrest without warrant any person whom he has reason to believe to be guilty of an offence under the 1949 Act.

Similar powers allow the police and officials in Bihar also to search private homes, vehicles and premises at will.

In September 2016, the police searched the house of Abhijit Bhattacharya, General :Post Office chief postmaster in Patna, after getting an anonymous call that liquor was being served there. The matter was escalated and with the intervention of the Union Communications Ministry, a high-level probe was ordered since nothing was recovered from his house. A middleman was later arrested by the police for giving false information. The accused wanted to settle scores with the chief postmaster and he intended to plant a liquor bottle in his balcony but the police reached the house before he could do so. On January 11, Chief Justice of India N.V Ramana said that courts in Bihar were choked with liquor bail matters.

Flooded wth pleas

The Gujarat High Court is seized with at least seven petitions challenging the prohibition law on the ground of privacy and others questions, such discrimination. The law allows a class of people to consume alcohol. “It is a blatant discriminatory legislation, it allows the rich to enjoy and creates a certain class of people who have access to liquor. It is like a penal State, permits are available to NRIs and licenses are given after assessing tax returns. The State gives non-citizens more rights,” said one of the petitioners on the condition of anonymity.

On August 23, 2021, the Gujarat High Court while admitting the petitions said in an order that the Supreme Court for the first time in the Puttuswamy case of 2017 recognised “Right to Privacy” of the citizen as a fundamental right and the “petitioners have assailed some of the provisions of the 1949 Act on the ground that they violate the Right to Privacy.” “The same has never been tested before in context of personal food preferences weaved within the right to privacy,” the order said. Now, with the police invoking the law against a political activist, the police may have just found a new disturbing use for the law.

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