In what could be termed as a case of callousness of the Punjab government, it has come to light that 33 liquor vends were allotted by the government on the national highways despite the high court ban on these.
It came to light as a result of a petition filed by a liquor contractor whose 33 such liquor vends were closed recently following which the contractor approached the high court against the government decision.
The liquor vends were allotted by the government as part of the excise policy 2015-16 on the Rupnagar-Nawanshahr-Phagwara national highway. This happened despite the fact that the national highway was notified in September 2014.
However, as the excise policy was challenged by NGO Arrive Safe Society, alleging violation of the high court orders in March, the violation came to light. After the high court seeking compliance report from the state, on April 23, an order was passed by the excise and taxation department to inspect all liquor vends and shift those which were on the national highways. These 33 liquor vends were closed in that exercise.
It was in 2014 that the high court had ordered that no liquor vend should be located along the national highways. "They should not be accessible or visible from national highways or service lanes running along such highways," the high court had said. It had passed a similar order on the state highways. However, the high court order on removing liquor vends on the state highways was stayed by the Supreme Court.
The petitioner contractor had argued that the liquor vends were on roads which were originally state highways and they were notified as national highways in September 2014. Subsequent notification of a state highway as a national highway ought not to prejudice a party who had already bid for and was allotted vends on the said highway, the petitioner had argued, further apprehending that all 135 vends allotted would be closed.
However, the high court ruled that the purpose of the clause was to ensure public safety. The authorities introduced these restrictions keeping in mind the hazard of operating liquor vends on the highways. "If as a result of the notification of the road as a national highway the petitioners suffer any loss or damage, they were always at liberty to adopt appropriate proceedings for the recovery," the high court said.
"Some vends have been closed but I am skeptical as an NGO has to play the role of an enforcement agency. Both the excise department and liquor traders are finding ways to circumvent rules to run liquor vends on the highways," Harman Singh Sidhu, president of Arrive Safe, said, reacting to the order.
The Jalandhar-Moga-Barnala-Mansa-Jhumir national highway and Bathinda-Muktsar-Jalalabad national highway would be his next targets, he said.