In order to curb road accidents, the state government is ready to implement the Supreme Court order for a crack down on all establishments serving liquor within 500m of national and state highways.
The government has identified more than 15,500 establishments — liquor shops, bars and restaurants — that will not be allowed to operate under the prohibited area from April 1.
This would include a significant number of bars in Mumbai as the city has two highways — Western Express Highway and Eastern Express Highway.
The government is in a fix after Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi opined that the SC’s order is applicable only for liquor shops and not for bars and restaurants. The government is hoping to get clarity on the issue from the SC on March 20 while hearing petitions from hotel associations.
The SC on December 15 last year had ordered closure of all liquor shops along national and state highways across the country.
The SC has also directed the state governments to “cease and desist” from issuing excise licences from March 31, 2017. The directives were issued while expressing concern over nearly 1.5 lakh deaths every year in road mishaps. It was believed the court orders were applicable not only to liquor shops, but also bars and restaurants that serve liquor. It is likely to hit hotels running in big numbers in along the Eastern Express Highway (EEH) and the Western Express Highway (WEH), maintained by the MMRDA), a state-run body.
The 23.55 km EEH connects the city with the eastern suburbs starting from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus to Chembur and stretched up to Thane, while the WEH helps in connecting eastern and western suburbs starting from Bandra to Dahisar.
The Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR), which is also one of the petitioners in the Apex Court, has expressed apprehensions of big losses to the hotel industry because most bars will have to down shutters if they can’t sell liquor. AHAR president Adarsh Shetty said more than three lakh people are likely to lose their job, while the financial losses to the industry would be around Rs 30,000 crore annually.
However Rohatgi said the Supreme Court’s order does not apply to bars and restaurants that serve alcohol along highways. The judgment categorically applied to liquor vends and not to other establishments serving liquor, he has said. The opinion was sought by the Kerala government after it was facing problem in implementing the court’s order.
This has put the state government in a fix over implementing the court orders. “We are ready to implement the court’s order. The government has identified around 15,500 establishments that will not be allowed to serve liquor from April 1 by taking a drive across the state. This includes liquor shops, bars and restaurants,” said Pradeep Pawar, deputy commissioner (inspection) of the state excise department.
He, however, said the Attorney General’s fresh opinion has created a kind of confusion. The state is now hoping to get some clarity from the Supreme Court on March 20 when it is likely to hear petitions from the several hotel associations on the matter.
Of the 15,500 establishments identified by the state, more than 12,000 will be bars and restaurants that will be badly hit as they will not be allowed to serve liquor. In case of the bars, they will have to shut their business as their license will not be renewed, Shetty told HT.
“We are now hoping relief from the Supreme Court as majority of the establishments that will be affected with the decision are bars and restaurants only,” Shetty said.