The State government has ordered that shuttered “licenced liquor vending outlets” abutting National and State Highways passing through municipal localities be allowed to reopen.
Additional Chief Secretary, Excise, Tom Jose said in his order dated August 25 that the Supreme Court had now clarified that its momentous verdict banning the sale of liquor in the proximity (500 m) of National and State Highways did not apply to licenced establishments within municipal areas.
The purpose of the order was to prevent sale of liquor along highways that link cities, towns, and villages to reduce road accidents caused due to drunk driving.
The government has hence withdrawn its plea seeking further clarification on the Supreme Court verdict. Excise enforcers said the order had paved the way for the immediate reopening of 466 licensed outlets in the State.
They included four bars, 276 wine and beer parlours (previously two-star bar hotels), 148 toddy shops, 25 State-run liquor retail outlets and several private members’ clubs.
The government has also decided to drop its move to re-designate State and National Highways passing through municipal localities as major district roads.
The State, following a pattern set by Karnataka, had received legal opinion that as per a 1983 Indian Road Congress (IRC) notification stipulated that National and State Highways automatically became notified as arterial, sub-arterial or Collector’s (district) roads when they entered or passed through urban areas.
The apex court clarification has come as a relief for the government beset by fear of increased sale of bootleg liquor of dubious quality in the run up to Onam.
Officials said the reopening of shuttered outlets would make illicit liquor saloons, that mushroomed in the wake of semi prohibitive climate imposed by the previous government, untenable. Moreover, the policy would help the government revitalise the ailing hotel and tourism industry and generate employment.
The Excise Department has received several fresh applications for new bar licences. Many are from two-star bars, which had shuttered in 2015. Most of the establishments have upgraded to three-star and above.