Highway stretches of West Bengal reclassified after liquor ban order

The West Bengal government has decided to denotify 277.3 km of five state highways to bypass the Supreme Court’s ban on liquor sales within 500 metres of national and state highways. 

The move is expected to benefit at least 40 per cent of the 2,100 bars and liquor shops affected by the order.

It will also help the state raise around Rs 800 crore excise duty from the sale of alcohol at these bars and shops. The state government earns an estimated Rs 3,400 crore every year from the sale of liquor.

The reclassification of these stretches of roads as arterial roads will bring them under the jurisdiction of municipalities and panchayats, with the public works department responsible for their maintenance.

The state has around 5,500 liquor shops and bars, of which 2,100 were affected by the order. 

With the state government deciding to denotify parts of five state highways, around 40 per cent of these are expected to be spared the effects of the ban.

As soon as the notification, dated March 16, became public on April 4, bars and liquor shops that had remained closed since April 1 opened for business.

“I was confident that the state government would work on some relief for the affected,” said Subrata Mondal, store manager at BK Saha Fl Off Shop on state highway 6 in Howrah.

“If these roads are brought under the local administration’s jurisdiction, they will be better maintained,” said Gautam Mukherjee, secretary of the West Bengal Foreign Liquor, Country Spirit, Off & On Shop & Hotel Owners’ Association.

The state government is also considering waiving licence fees involved in relocating the affected bars.

Vikram Soni, vice-president of the West Bengal Foreign Liquor Manufacturers, Wholesalers and Bonders’ Association, said it was too cumbersome for liquor shop and bar owners to relocate. “There are several restrictions involved in opening new liquor shops and it is not a feasible alternative,” he added. Surjit Singh, owner of the Hakim Singh Dhaba in Hooghly, which is affected by the ban, said he needed at least Rs 1 crore to relocate his bar. Land cost was estimated at around Rs 40 lakh and construction and other charges would account for a minimum of Rs 60 lakh, he added.

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