The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a ban on all liquor shops operating within 500 metres of national and state highways across the country. It also directed the state governments to “cease and desist” from issuing excise licenses.
The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur held that the license of the existing shops would not be renewed after March 31.
Such a step has been aimed to curb the number of drink driving and road accident cases that claim over 1.5 lakh lives every year. Justice Thakur said no more new liquor shops would be opened within 500 metres of the highways and all existing shops will have to shut down by April 1, 2017. The judges also ordered that liquor banner and ads indicating their location should be removed from a 100-metre range of the highway.
The Chief Secretary and police chiefs of states have to implement the order.
The bench had made it clear last week that these liquor shops on highways tempt commuters to drink and such an order was necessary. “Roads should be absolutely free from any distraction or attractions. Visibility is the first temptation,” Justice Thakur said.
The bench quite firmly maintained that they issued the directives in public interest since lives of many are at stake and state governments have not come up with any such policies. The bench said revenue generation cannot be the sole ground to let these shops continue along highways at the risk of giving rise to drunken driving and consequential fatalities.
The court was dealing with a lot of petitions on the issue. Most of the petitions had urged a change in rules, given the number of accidents because of drunk driving. A 2015 report by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways suggested that almost five lakh accidents occurred last year in India, killing 1,46,000 people.
A petition by NGO Arrive Safe Society said, “An analysis of road accident data 2015 reveals that around 1,374 accidents and 400 deaths take place every day on Indian roads, resulting in 57 accidents and loss of 17 lives on an average every hour. India being a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration, it is imperative that policy guidelines are framed to control road accidents. Also, the excise policies of Indian states and Union Territories should be amended to conform to the spirit of Article 47 r/w Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
The bench had an argument with the counsel for Jammu and Kashmir, who claimed people would face difficulties because of the state’s terrain in accessing the shops if they away from the highway. The bench said, “You can start door delivery of liquor.”
Liquor Raj on Highways
The court found that there are 62 liquor shops along a 1 km stretch of the national highway in Mahe district, Puducherry. Also, Liquor stores on highways in several districts of Telangana are a big menace though the Excise Department banned them within a distance of 50 metres.
This is a welcome decision by the apex court. Big trucks and carrier vehicles ply through these highways and the drivers are often found driving under the influence of alcohol. They resort to alcohol to numb the pain of sitting while doing 48+ hour journeys across the country.
It remains to be seen how effective this move will be because people can still carry alcohol from a nearby village or city.