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Highway liquor ban — a welcome step

The ban on liquor in pubs and bars along with hotels within 500 meters of a highway is a right step in the right direction. Drunk driving is on the increase and number of fatal accidents on highways is causing concern. Following a widespread impact of Supreme Court’s order banning the sale of liquor along National and State Highways, banquet halls, marriage gardens and tent associations have decided to challenge SC’s decision. The move comes up after the excise department decided to stop issuing one-day liquor licenses for marriages and parties held in banquet and marriage halls falling within 500 metres of the highways.

The decision by the excise department is likely to impact banquet halls and party halls along the highway. However, there is a possibility of a negative impact on employment of thousands of people working in tourism and hospitality sector. The loss to the excise department due to SC’s decision will be calculated only after a proper study. Apart from excise department, court’s decision will also impact revenue from value-added tax but human life is dear.  It was not a complete decision taken by the Supreme Court that undermined the point of view of the other side. We have figured out some points and we will put our case before the attorney general of the state as well as file a separate case in the Supreme Court to challenge the decision. If the move paid rich dividends in reducing the number of fatal accidents on the highways then this exercise is a successful one.

Whenever Supreme Court comes up with an overarching decision, the whole country goes into a commotion. What percentage of the population on the highways really gets down to drink. This affects a small percentage of people, who are addicted to alcohol. The tall claims about loss in thousands of crores is all empty rhetoric which we witness on every issue. SC has done right thing with the order. It’s time people should get used to maintain discipline in living as per law, that is, no drunken driving. A very good order of SC which was long overdue. Those who have lost friends and family in highway drunk driving deaths will welcome this order. States attempting to dilute this order by circumventing the rules should be held in contempt.

I think this move is to discourage liquor consumption on highways and will not have desired effect. It will lead to illegal supply chain of spurious liquor in the pipeline. Highway drinkers will also get second unauthorised sale putting burden on law enforcement authorities like police and excise department. The liquor ban has not produced results in India. Instead of enforcing the ban the authorities should have restricted number of liquor selling vends on highways. Well, liquor cannot be sold within 500/220 mtrs from the highways. Those who drink if they carry liquor with them from home or other location and drink while driving on the highway then what will be the answer? Will it not be more dangerous and people drive dangerously even without the influence of liquor. In the same way mobile phones are banned while driving but it is a common practise that every one of us have seen numerous people using mobile phones while driving and hence, the objective of banning is defeated. So the same goes for liquor too. So the analysis has to be accidents due to liquor v/s other reasons.

If the SC is more concerned about the safety of the people then the government have to make the roads of international standards. Further, large number of people who frequently visit bars but do not drive after drinking, should have the liberty to exercise their personal choice; as they do not drive on public roads. Government and Court should protect their freedom, in the spirit of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The intention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court about preventing drinking and driving is a laudable objective. If bar-owners are willing to assume the responsibility of ensuring that the drinks are not served to persons who drive and are empowered to conduct breath analyser test on persons leaving the bar and driving, they should be allowed to carry out their trade, according to the licence issued by respective State Governments. The pertinent question is that what difference does it make if people are drunk 500 meters away and come on to the highways? Strict ban on liquor on highway is a realistic one but how the system work wonders is an open question?

Jayanthy Subramaniam

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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