What does road safety have to do with the big, fat Punjabi wedding? A lot for the recent Supreme Court order banning serving of liquor within 500 metres of highways to clamp down on drunk driving has literally left marriage palaces in Punjab high and dry.
The scale of Punjabi weddings is grand enough to require venues that resemble palaces. Located along highways on the outskirts of cities across the state, the focus at the wedding celebrations is on drinking, dining and dancing.
Marriage palace owners say bookings are drying up, affecting business at 70% such venues.
Rajeev Chhabra of AKM Resorts in Zirakpur on the Chandigarh-Patiala highway says an estimated 2,500 of the 3,500 marriage palaces in Punjab are located within 500 metres of a state or national highway. “At least 70% of marriage palaces in Punjab have been affected by the court order. Those who have wedding functions planned have put bookings at these venues on hold. We have no bookings after May,” says Chhabra.
It doesn’t help that he went in for a glitzy makeover of the venue. “Customers are making frantic enquiries at different places for arrangements. Serving liquor to guests is the major concern,” he says.
Chhabra said he has a marriage in the family this weekend and they are unable to decide where to serve liquor to guests. “We may go for a separate party for our friends and relatives at a place which doesn’t have a liquor ban,” he said, adding that weddings in Punjab are incomplete without liquor
Punjab additional excise and taxation commissioner Gurtej Singh says business in 27 star hotels and 269 bars and pubs across the state has suffered due to the ban on serving liquor near highways.
“We have counted 1,000 marriage palaces where business has been affected. The number of such wedding venues is rising by the day as more and more owners are getting in touch with us,” he says.
The excise department used to earn Rs 800 crore to Rs 900 crore annually from the sale of liquor in bars, hotels and marriage palaces. “The department will lose the revenue this year,” he says.
The department had sought a legal opinion from the advocate general whether to allow marriage palaces serve liquor or not, he adds.
“In the initial judgment of the SC (on December 15, 2016), the bars and hotels were not specified but a clarification was sought after the court disallowed them (bars and hotels) from serving liquor too. But still the verdict is silent on marriage palaces. The department has requested the advocate general to give his opinion,” says Gurtej.
So far, the department is not allowing the marriage palaces to serve liquor..