The Uttar Pradesh government has taken a page from the Chandigarh model to circumvent a Supreme Court order mandating the closure of establishments that sell liquor along national and state highways.
It has simply rebranded many of its major state highways as district roads.
“The internal roads of the city (currently notified as state highways) connected to a bypass are being declared as additional district roads while city bypasses are being declared as state highways,” said a notification issued by Sadakant, additional chief secretary of the Uttar Pradesh public works department, on Saturday.
The Uttar Pradesh government finished renaming the roads barely a few hours before the apex court’s order banning liquor vends on highways came into effect at March 31 midnight.
In a move aimed at checking incidents of drink driving, the Supreme Court had ordered late last year that the liquor licences of all shops, bars and restaurants would become void from the wee hours of April 1.
Uttar Pradesh makes Rs 6,000 crore from the proceeds of 8,000-odd outlets, including bars on the highways. Of these, around 203 outlets in Lucknow, 100 in Kanpur, and 221 in Varanasi faced imminent closure due to the court order.
While the notification is bound to legalise a large number of these liquor vends, it would take time to conduct a fresh survey of the ones it can’t protect. And the government doesn’t want to take any chances. “We will comply with the apex court’s orders,” a senior state excise department official told HT.
Joint teams of excise department officials and police personnel have already started implementing the court order. Shop owners hit by the verdict would either have to shift 500 metres away from the highway or close operations altogether. The distance can be 220 metres in specific areas with a population below 20,000.
The Lucknow Sharab Association (LSA) said many shops in the state capital fell under the Supreme Court order’s ambit due to ill-considered decisions made by the public works department. “Several areas were included under state and national highways hurriedly. This is why shops from Tile Wali Masjid to Koneshwar crossing, Thakurganj, Balaganj and Dubagga have been forced to shut down,” said LSA leader Kanhailal Maurya. “And we weren’t told about this until we paid our licence fees!”
Liquor licences, which are given away every March, happen to be a major source of income for the government.
LSA president SP Singh has already approached the high court, pleading that several shops have been wrongly shown to be a part of the state highway.