SC upholds ban on liquor outlets on highways; Goa faces the brunt

Supreme Court on Friday upheld the 15 December liquor ban on state highways but relaxed the rule a little. The court reduced the distance of liquor vends from highways in areas with a population of up to 20,000 from 500 to 220 metres. The apex court said people who got licences for liquor vends prior to the 15 December 2016 verdict can operate till 30 September while others will have to shut down from Saturday. The distance relaxation was also extended to hill states of Sikkim, Meghalaya and Himachal Pradesh.

 SC upholds ban on liquor outlets on highways; Goa faces the brunt

Supreme Court. Reuters

The ruling is being seen as a big blow to Goa.

with this order, more than 3,000 liquor traders, including bars, restaurants, wholesalers, retailers and warehouses will be shut, reported The Times of India.

Three days back, the Goa government had said that only 768 outlets will be impacted by the order.

Executives from the state are predicting that this will have a negative impact on the state tourism and trade.

Some are also predicting that the liquor business in the state will collapse by the SC order.

Besides, the top court exempted Sikkim and Meghalaya from the ban order altogether.

Noting the 82 per cent forest cover in Sikkim and the peculiar hilly terrain in Meghalaya, the court said, "We are of the view that insofar as the states of Meghalaya and Sikkim are concerned, it would suffice if the two states are exempted only from the application of the 500 metre distance..."

However, Himachal Pradesh has been brought in the ban limit of 220 metres as applicable to local bodies adjoining the highways with 20,000 or less population.

Earlier on Thursday, the Supreme Court had reserved its order on a batch of petitions - both by some states and private parties - seeking modification of its order banning liquor vendors along national and state highways. A bench of Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice L Nageswara Rao had said that in the "interest of the public health" the liquor shops were ordered to be removed to a distance of 500 meters from either side of the highways.

The bench had said that asking the state government to shift the liquor shops was not impinging on the excise policy of different states as it was only a matter of distance of the outlets from the highways.

The bench told the senior lawyers appearing for some states: "Those states which were seriously affected by the order, they should have come here."

"We have not tested the excise policy. You have no freedom to drink and drive on the national highway," said Justice Chandrachud, who authored the judgment.

As Rohatgi named some small towns saying that the restriction of 500 meters would cross them and contended that because of the ban "the budget of every state has gone for a six", the bench said: "You are not telling us which town will go."

The court said this as Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi and several other senior lawyers including KK Venugopal, CA Sundram, Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhavan, Raju Ramachandran and others told the court that its liquor ban was hurting the state exchequer and the order was unconstitutional.

"It is unconstitutional. In one stroke all the excise laws within the country were whipped out," Dhavan told the bench and asked on what basis the court had given the order.

Urging the court to have a relook at its order banning liquor outlets on the highways, Venugopal said the percentage of accidents due to drunk driving was the lowest.

He said that while drunk driving was being hammered, nothing was being done to deal with accidents on account of speeding or overloading of trucks.

Giving a suggestion, Venugopal said that those liquor shops which are outside the 100 meter from the edges of the highways but within 500 meters should be allowed to continue.

However, a lawyer opposing the relaxation of 500 ban order referred to several advisories issued by the Centre since 2004 asking for curbs on the liquor shops along the highway.

He said it took 13 years for the ban to come and pointed out that India had the highest rate of accidents of drunk driving.

The court declined to provide any relief to Tamil Nadu which had sought more time to implement the 15 December, 2016 order.

With inputs from PTI and IANS

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Updated Date: Apr 01, 2017 11:03:54 IST