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What is the lowdown on the highway liquor ban

People engaged in hospitality industry who have become jobless following the Supreme Court orders prohibiting sale of liquor along the highways, holding placards taking part in a demonstration at City Centre in Chandigarh on April 03, 2017.

People engaged in hospitality industry who have become jobless following the Supreme Court orders prohibiting sale of liquor along the highways, holding placards taking part in a demonstration at City Centre in Chandigarh on April 03, 2017.   | Photo Credit: Akhilesh Kumar

What is it?

From April 1, the States and the Union Territories were mandated to shut all liquor vends — shops, bars and restaurants — situated within 500 metres of the outer edge of National or State Highways. The directive was clear that no liquor vend should be visible and directly accessible from a highway. The States were also barred from granting fresh licences for liquor sale along the highways. Further, the ban on liquor vends extended to highways passing through a city or town.

How did it come about?

A public interest litigation petition was filed by NGO Arrive Safe in the Supreme Court, which said nearly 1.42 lakh people were killed in road accidents every year, mainly owing to drunk driving. The ban order was based on a Supreme Court judgment on the petition delivered by a three-judge Bench, headed by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur on December 15, 2016 in the State of Tamil Nadu vs K. Balu case. The judgment cited the recommendations of an apex road safety body, advisories issued by the Union government to the States and the statistics on the high rate of road accidents for the basis of liquor ban on highways.

The National Road Safety Council, which was established under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, had concluded at a meeting in January 2004 that liquor shops should not be given licences along the National Highways. This was followed up by a Road Transport and Highways Ministry’s circular to all State governments, advising them to remove liquor shops situated along the National Highways and not to issue fresh licences in 2011, 2013 and 2014. The advisory drew attention to the parliamentary mandate of zero tolerance of driving under the influence of alcohol. The Supreme Court also highlighted the Union government’s policy titled ‘Model Policy/taxation/act/rules for alcoholic beverages and alcohol’ issued a decade ago, which advocated a ban on liquor vends situated 220 metres from the middle of the State or National Highways.

Why does it matter?

The court relied upon the “alarming” statistics on road accidents and remarked that human life is precious. During 2015, 5.01 lakh people were injured and 1.46 lakh people killed in road accidents, as per official data compiled by the Road Transport and Highways Ministry. Although driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs accounted for 3.3% of the total road accidents and 4.6% of the total deaths, the court contended that over-speeding, the prime reason for accidents, could also occur owing to drunk driving. It further said there was a tendency to under-report drunk driving as a cause of accidents and liquor was easily available on the State Highways. For instance, in Tamil Nadu, a liquor outlet is situated at every 5.5 kilometre on its highways. A few States argued that the ruling would result in revenue loss. According to estimates by the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), the ban will lead to a loss of ₹2 lakh crore to the exchequer and ₹20,000 crore to the industry. It has estimated that nearly 1 lakh establishments will face the threat of closure.

What next?

The States are taking steps to convert their highways into local roads. Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and the Union Territory of Chandigarh have de-notified hundreds of kilometres. However, the National Highways can be re-classified into local roads only by the Road, Transport and Highways Ministry. Other States like Kerala will likely seek more time from the court to implement the order. The FHRAI is weighing legal options to approach the court for some relaxation.

 

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 6:15:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/highway-liquor-ban-what-is-the-lowdown/article18191119.ece

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