Highway Liquor Shop Ban: Choice Between Road Safety & Livelihoods
The Supreme Court’s order on liquor sale on highways raises the issue of livelihoods being affected.
Arun Raikar, 55, is nervous. In about three months, he would have to switch to another profession. For nearly four decades, a licensed liquor shop in Margao, Goa has been his family’s only source of income. But since 15 December 2016, Raikar has lost sleep.
The Supreme Court banned the sale of liquor on and within 500 metres of national and state highways across the country. Delivering its verdict on a petition that challenged a High Court decision, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur also ordered elimination of all signboards of alcohol along highways.
We would not like any vend on national highways, state highways, advertisements, or signage about availability of liquor shops. All signboards should be removed. Roads should be absolutely free from any distraction or attractions. Visibility is the first temptation.TS Thakur, Chief Justice of India
According to the verdict, the licenses of existing shops would not be renewed after 31 March 2017. The move is aimed at reducing the alarming 1,50,000 fatal accidents that occur every year – much of it attributed to drunken driving. Activists believe it is a key step towards ensuring road safety.
There is no question of prioritising revenue generation over the safety of citizens. But the state of Goa deserves special attention. There are more than 11,500 licensed liquor shops in the coastal state. And well over 50 percent of the establishments would cease to exist post 31 March.
Being the small state that it is, a majority of Goa’s roads are in the form of national and state highways that run along its beautiful coastline. The major district roads have been converted into state highways, and state highways into national highways under the developmental projects.
Raikar, who is burdened with a business loan, said his shop is within 500 metres of the highway in Margao.
“More than 50,000 people would be unemployed, which means 50,000 families would be badly hit,” said Raikar, who is also the convener of the Goa Liquor Vendors Association. “My staff would be reduced to poverty. My family’s future has been jeopardised.”
But the Supreme Court Bench said revenue generation could not be a valid reason to defend the rampant liquor consumption on highways. The Punjab government’s counsel received flak, as the state has issued way too many licenses along the highways. “You are acting like a mouthpiece for the liquor lobby by defending the policy. You want the excise minister to be happy, make the government happy… Let 1.5 lakh people die but you must serve liquor,” the bench said.
Loss of Revenue
Apart from Punjab, Maharashtra is estimated to lose Rs 6,000 crore in revenue, along with over 2 lakh people likely to lose their jobs. In the north, Ghaziabad has 501 liquor shops on state highways. In 2014, the Haryana government had cancelled several licenses of liquor vends on NH-8 that runs through Gurgaon, but with the 500-metre rule, more shops would be shut down.
In the southern Union Territory of Puducherry, there are 62 shops in the 1-kilometre stretch of the highway in Mahe district. It has been a den for tipplers in Kerala where there is a partial liquor ban. The Chief Justice noted that the Centre had asked for action against these vends back in 2007. But the Union Territory, which falls under the Centre’s control, did not act upon it.
However, in terms of its population, density, tourist attraction, culture and economic dependence on alcohol, Goa, with around 2 million people, would endure the strongest tremors after the Supreme Court verdict. Last year’s excise revenue of Goa had been Rs 315 crore, which is likely to dwindle by at least 25 percent. The sales of liquor are estimated to reduce by 35 percent.
Defence Minister and former Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar reportedly said, “I have not understood the meaning of the Supreme Court's decision. We will have to think about it. If we go 500 metres, half of Goa will be affected.”
The Goa government is likely to seek legal advice regarding the implementation of the order, CM Lakshmikant Parsekar said at an event. He also holds the finance portfolio.
Raikar said once the verdict is enforced, many of the vendors would want to move towards the interiors and it would further complicate things. “It would only increase congestion,” he said. “What alternative do we have? Not all vends can be relocated to the interiors and those that shift too would have to start from scratch. Only a select few would be able to get back on their feet.”
While road safety activists have welcomed the move wholeheartedly, Raju Nayak, a senior Goa-based editor, said the execution of the verdict is equally important. “Those who want to drink desperately would make arrangements irrespectively,” he said. “But curbing easy access along the highway would definitely bring down drunken driving. However, it opens up another avenue for the illicit liquor barons to flourish. The enforcement of the verdict would be very critical.”
(The writer is special correspondent with LA Times. He can be reached at @parthpunter. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. )
(This article was originally published on 30 December 2016. It is being republished to mark the Supreme Court’s decision on 30 March 2017 to reserve its order banning liquor in 500-metre distance from state and national highways.)
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