Supreme Court bans sale of liquor on highways

Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a ban on the sale of liquor on all State Highways, stating that all licenses of liquor shops in and around the National Highways would be closed.

The apex court bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur, however, said that they can operate till March 31, 2017. No renewal of their licenses would be made thereafter.

The SC came down heavily on states for not heeding the Centre’s advice to not give licences to the vends on the highways. Instead, the states have increased the number of licences, the bench pointed out. The first communiqué was released in 2007, since then the Centre has been sending notices to the states.

“We would not like any vend on national highways, state highways, advertisements, or signage about the availability of liquor shops. We will direct all highway authorities to remove all sign boards. It should be absolutely free from any distraction or attractions. It should not be visible. Visibility is the first temptation,” J Thakur said.

On Wednesday, the court had indicated that it would order the shutting of all liquor vends on highways for the safety and security of commuters who get “distracted” after seeing the shops, causing accidents.

"Look at the number of licences you (Punjab) have given. Because the liquor lobby is so powerful, everyone is happy. The excise department is happy, the excise minister is happy and the state government is also happy that they are making money. If a person dies due to this, you give Rs one or 1.5 lakh. That is it. You should take a stand which is helpful for the society," the bench had said.

Reminding the state government of its constitutional obligation to prohibit liquor sale, the bench had asked the state to do something for general public considering that nearly 1.5 lakh people were dying every year.

The bench had also expressed unhappiness over alleged inaction by various states in removing liquor shops alongside roads which give rise to drunken driving and consequential fatalities.

Asking authorities to adopt a positive attitude to remove the menace, the bench had said that revenue generation cannot be a "valid reason" for a state or a Union Territory to give licence for liquor shops on highways. 

Besides states, the bench had also rapped the Centre for not doing anything concrete for the last 10 years, forcing the court to "step in".

Earlier, the court had sought a response from the Centre, states and Union territories on the pleas seeking a direction to amend excise laws to ensure that no liquor is sold alongside highways.

Several pleas have been filed on the issue, including the one which referred to the 2015 report of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and said that almost five lakh accidents occurred last year in India, killing 1,46,000 people and leaving thrice the number injured.

It was alleged that despite the recommendations of a committee to ban the sale of alcohol on state and national highways, states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were sticking to their prevailing excise policies under which licences were being issued to liquor shops along the highways.

"An analysis of road accident data 2015 reveals that around 1,374 accidents and 400 deaths take place every day on Indian roads, resulting in 57 accidents and loss of 17 lives on an average every hour.

"India being a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration, it is imperative that policy guidelines are framed to control road accidents. Also, the excise policies of Indian states and Union territories should be amended to conform to the spirit of Article 47 r/w Article 21 of the Constitution of India," one of the pleas had said.


Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel