With Looming Liquor Ban, Bengaluru Pubs Mull Over Renting Licenses

As many as 138 pubs and restaurants in Bengaluru’s MG Road, Brigade Road and Church Street serve alcohol.

4 min read
Brigade Road in Bengaluru. 

Bengaluru city has six national highways running through it and with the Centre keeping quiet on the state government’s plea to denotify these stretches, many restaurants including star hotels are on tenterhooks as they will lose their license.

According to a TOI report, National highways (NH) 44, 75, 209, 275, 4 and 7, which begin at the General Post office, located at the centre of the city, spread out in six different directions. This geographical fix has restaurant and pub owners worried as they do not know where to relocate to.

The excise department had these lists ready in April. Several star hotels have already been served notices by the department to stop serving liquor from July 1 and have refused to renew their licenses.

With severe losses threatening their businesses, several members of bar and pub owners’ association in the city are now mulling over renting their licenses to other outlets.

“If we want to rent out our license to outlets which are not located within 500 m of the highways, then the Excise Department will be able to renew the existing license. That way, we can at least obtain income from the license rent,” a member of the Bengaluru Bar and Pub Owners’ Association said.

With the Supreme Court order stating that no alcohol can be served within 500 metres of state and national highways, several outlets may have to stop serving liquor.

According to Srinivas Gowda, manager of Pecos, one of Bengaluru’s oldest bars, the Karnataka Excise Department has issued applications to these outlets for licence renewal.

All we can do is apply but the Excise Department will not issue the license as they also have to abide by the Supreme Court order. We have three outlets in Brigade Road and Church Street. Our customers don’t come here for the food alone. It’s because of the beer. We have been serving beer for the last 30 years and the Brigade Road outlet is one of our oldest ones. We have no option but to move to another area which is not a state or national highway. This will cause us a huge loss.

According to the manager of a star hotel on MG Road, the Excise Department has sent back their license application already and the high-end hotel is now in a pickle.

Why is everyone saying that the Excise Department did something wrong? We cannot renew licences unless they relocate their outlets more than 500 metres from the national highway. Since national highways have not yet been denotified, we have no other option. We have to abide by the Supreme Court order. We are just doing our job.
Rajendra Prasad, Additional Excise Commissioner to The News Minute

However, members of the Karnataka Wine Merchants’ Association and Karnataka Pub Owners’ Association are angered by the state government and claim that it did nothing to help them.

The Supreme Court order came out on 31 March. It has been over two months and now the BBMP and state government has suddenly realised that MG Road is officially listed as a national highway. This is the problem with our government. The BBMP has been maintaining the roads in the municipal limits for decades now. Their lethargy and unwillingness to work promptly are now taking a toll on us.
Honnagiri Gowda, President, Karnataka Wine Merchants’ Association

The Supreme Court, in its order dated 31 March, prohibited liquor trade within 500m from the edge of highways. Alcohol sale is not allowed within a 220m range from highways in small towns, with populations of under 20,000.

According to Bengaluru Mayor, G Padmavati, the stretch from MG Road to Old Madras Road, from Trinity Circle, which goes towards KR Puram are not highways and maintained by the BBMP, and are surrounded by residential areas.

Here’s the catch.

These roads in the heart of the city are highways only in the record books. All maintenance work and development is carried out by the BBMP. The Karnataka government is in talks with National Highways Authority of India and we are trying to convince them to hand over the roads to BBMP. No official communication has been received from NHAI yet. 
G Padmavati, Bengaluru Mayor

A senior BBMP official, on condition of anonymity, told The News Minute that even today, according to record books, the road starting from Basaveswara Circle via Raj Bhavan to MG Road till Old Madras Road is a national highway and these records have not been updated since the 1990s and neither has the state government tried to rectify this.

MG Road should have been denotifed as a National Highway decades ago but it has not yet been done. Now, with only a week’s time left, there is a lot of pressure from bar owners on the state government.
Senior BBMP Official

Bengaluru Development Minister, KJ George, however, seemed confident that the government could convince the Centre to denotify MG Road as a national highway.

“We will convince the Centre not to consider them as highways before 1 July,” the Minister said.

The Wine Merchants’ Association and Pub Owners’ Association, however, said that if the government does not get the stretch denotified, they will carry out massive protests and also file a writ petition with the Supreme Court in this regard.

(This article was originally published in The News Minute)

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