After SC ban, bars along highways hunt for new establishments

A closed liquor shop following the directive of the Supreme Court to shut liquor vends located within 500 of national and state highways in Nagpur. Photo: PTI
Aman Pasrija is thanking his stars. Had his bar been just 50 metres closer to the NH 8, he would be suffering a loss of Rs 2.5 lakh daily. In a sector in which location is a key factor, Pasrija escaped by a hair’s breadth and was saved from closing the bar in his 80-cover restaurant in the Cyber Hub area in Gurgaon.“I have never felt luckier. We are 550 metres away from the highway. Guess what, I got a surveyor to again measure the distance, just to be sure. My bar can run,” he said. Afraid of putting his luck at risk, Pasrija does not want the name of his restaurant to be published.

But not all are as fortunate as Pasrija. Rahul Singh, founder and chief executive officer, The Beer Café, a restaurant chain known for its brew, had to shut down his bar in five of his properties. 

“This is almost like demonetisation and is overwhelming. We are now working with the stakeholders on the issue,” he said.

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered a ban on the sale of alcohol in restaurants, hotels and liquor outlets within 500 metres from national and state highways.

Restaurant owners are looking at options to keep intact their businesses, which would suffer massive losses if the ban continues. Many are now scouting new locations in commercial areas away from the highway. “There are people who have hurriedly applied for new licences and are moving their bars to new spots. There is a frenzy to find new spots that are away from the highway,” said Ashok Bansal, general secretary, Hotel Association of Chandigarh.

While there have been reports of some five-star hotels changing the entrances to their bars that are a few metres from the prohibition point, not everyone has been able to do so. “There is no leeway, no solution for us. We had to suddenly tell our guests that we would not be able to serve liquor to them. Our hotel as a whole falls in the red zone, we cannot just change the spot for the bar,” said Manoj Thapa, general manager, Four Points By Sheraton, New Delhi.

According to the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), the industry will take a hit of around $30 billion against an annual revenue of $60 billion, following the Supreme Court’s order. “Tourism creates jobs. Why kill it? The highway liquor ban verdict may hit one million jobs,” Amitabh Kant, chief executive officer, NITI Aayog, had recently tweeted.

According to Technopak's India Food Services Report 2016, commissioned by the National Restaurant Association of India, the food services sector alone provides direct employment to 5.8 million people and indirect employment to another 7.5-8.5 million, and the two are likely to rise to 8.7 million and 9.5-10.5 million by 2021.

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