Satvinder Singh Saluja and others v. State of Bihar (Criminal Appeal No. 951/2019) - Synopsis
Team SoOLEGAL 23 Sep 2020

A Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices Ashok Bhushan and K.M. Bench. Joseph has held that the concept of a 'public place' would not exclude a private vehicle.

In the present case, the Appellants were driving from Giridih, Jharkhand and were stopped at Rajauli check post in Bihar. Upon examining them it was found that they were in under the influence of alcohol while driving. Accordingly, under Section 53(a) of the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act of 2016, the appellants were charge sheeted. The appellants made claims that had two facets in order to circumvent the prosecution.  Firstly, Section 53(a) of the Act does not apply on them as it relates to drinking in public places. They contended that they were not drinking in a public places as they were in their private vehicle. Secondly, that the laws on liquor consumption of Bihar cannot penalise them as they were in Jharkhand.

Section 2(17A) of the Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act defines “public place” as “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”.

The court stated that whatever place to which the public has access is a public place. The Court notes that "access" is the key word in the description of Section-2(17A). The court noted that a private car on a road can be accessed by the public. The apex Court therefore rejected the first claim in the light of Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act of 2016 definitions of "public space." The court observed that, “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”.

The second contention was also rejected by the court. It said that anyone who is found drunk within Bihar would be punishable under Section-37 (b) of the Act, “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)”. Subsequently, the appeal was dismissed.

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