Liquor ban: Politicos denotifying national and state highways are making a mockery of the SC ruling

If I was a Supreme Court judge I would be pretty miffed at the manner in which politicians in various states are attempting to circumnavigate my orders. Here I am, with my peers, seated on the highest court in the land—trying to make a decision that, as I understand it, involves several thousand livelihoods—but also makes the lives of people safer by creating a cordon sanitaire across India’s highways.

File image of Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

File image of Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

The aim has been to slow down drunken driving and thereby the death rate which hovers around the 400 a day mark and is the highest in the world. So, what was done was this: My august colleagues and I sat down and weighed the pros and cons. We decided this was a dubious record and a start towards safer roads had to be made. That was the operative statement. A start had to be made.

At no stage did the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, suggest or indicate:

A) This was a perfect solution.

B) There would be no loopholes.

C) Those determined to risk their lives would be undeterred by a 500 metre ‘no buy’ zone.

But it is surprising and certainly worth investigating if the executive branch is in contempt of the judicial prerogative, considering the way in which they are attempting to bypass this ruling, mainly by denotifying strips of India's 92,850 kilometres of national highways (national highways are marked with yellow milestones, state highways are marked with green milestones).

Just rename them as urban roads. Then you can begin to pour drinks

The official explanation for denotification says this: Denotification of land is the cancellation of a notification of intent to acquire land. Notification and denotification is generally issued by governments, particularly in India. It is when a court has cancelled the acquisition of land to builders by an Indian state government.

Since this is a bunch of gobbledygook and would be difficult for most people to wrap their minds around it, let us put it in a simpler way:

Section 48 (i) of the LA Act 1894 provides that except in case provided for U/s 36(i), the government shall be at liberty to withdraw from the acquisition of any land of which possession has not been taken. Thus, the power to withdraw any land from acquisition has been created under the statute, which provides that the land can be denotified if the possession of which has not been taken over by the government. However, this power has to be exercised in judicious manner and on the basis of guidelines framed by the government.

Let’s get a lot simpler: It is also an exercise in skullduggery and is often used by politicians to make money. In 2011, former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa was taken into judicial custody over allegations of denotifying government land for monetary gain.

Despite the fact that denotification is a transparent cop out and flies in the face of a Supreme Court diktat, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis has led the charge. His state, along with Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand quickly denotified their state highways to ensure the uninterrupted flow of booze. How convenient.

Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala have not yet closed the door on doing the same. And even though Goa CM Manohar Parrikar is hanging in there, his fragile coalition may not be able to take the heat from the worst affected state. Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, Feni, here we come.

Indeed, with state governments clearly setting an unhealthy precedent by what can be seen by many as blatant cheating, the Supreme Court is charged with the task of hearing an appeal made to it by the Arrive Safe Society of Chandigarh, the NGO which started this whole initiative, which now wants the denotification process reversed.

Denotification, done after the fact, is a rather shabby way of sidling past the law. From the point of view of governance, it is, in no way, edifying.

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Updated Date: Apr 14, 2017 18:17:01 IST

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