The recent Supreme Court (SC) order banning the sale of liquor within 500m of national and state highways has put city and state authorities in a flap. From re-designating highways to seeking legal redress, officials are hunting for ways to circumvent the order and keep the businesses going. The main reason for this rush to find escape hatches is not difficult to guess: The first weekend after the order saw the hospitality industry lose tens of crores of rupees and the states’ lucrative revenue. Then there has been talk on loss of employment. For example, the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Chandigarh said that over 5,000 people could be laid off due to the order. With these kinds of fears surfacing in the media, the online and offline discussions have been mostly restricted to revenue and employment losses.
But there is another dangerous trend that the SC order has triggered in states: Re-designation of highways. Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan are rebranding their state highways as district roads. Many of these pubs are also looking to move into residential areas to circumvent the rule. And if a story from Kolkata is to be believed, cars are the new bars along the highway and alcohol is also being served at dhabas, all illegally, of course. In Gurgaon, developers are making changes in entries and exits of properties, violating sanctioned plans. So to be in line with one law, people will be flouting others.
The re-designation of highways as district roads could turn out to be dangerous in the long run because their maintenance may not be up to the mark, leading to road accidents. If the courts want to stop people from drinking and driving --- no doubt a noble objective --- it should ensure that the laws are implemented better by the police. The new Motor Vehicles (Amendement) Bill 2016, which the Cabinet has approved, has raised the penalty for drunk driving five times to Rs 10,000 and if such driving results in the death of another person, the driver can be booked for a non-bailable offence with imprisonment up to 10 years. The Bill has been introduced in Lok Sabha. Bangalore and Mumbai have shown that better policing and implementation of the law can help curb drink driving. The strong implementation of the law has even got the market responding with several companies providing drivers to ferry drinkers home. There is no reason why other states should not follow similar policing measures to stop drunk driving.