Denotifying NHs to bypass SC liquor ban will put additional burden on states
With the Supreme Court’s March 31 order banning liquor sale within 500 metres of national and state highways, at least half-a-dozen states – including Rajasthan and Punjab – are scurrying to the Centre with requests to get stretches of national highways (NHs) passing through their territories denotified as state highways.
The reason: Once a particular NH stretch is denotified, states can bypass the apex court’s order by declaring them either as urban or district roads. States cannot convert an NH into a state highway – it can only be done at the discretion of the Union ministry of road transport and highways.
Though the latter can either accept or reject such requests, there have been very few instances of the ministry turning them down.
How does denotification help states?
It helps to the extent that states can continue to earn revenue from liquor sale on such stretches, considering that the apex court order is enforceable only on national and state highways. But it also puts additional burden on the state exchequer.
Once an NH is denotified as a state highway, the funds required for its repair and maintenance have to be borne by the state. The Centre is responsible only for the upkeep of national highways.
For instance, in the 2017-18 budget, the Union road transport ministry was allocated an overall amount of Rs 2,970 crore – including Rs 1,141 crore from gross budgetary support – for maintenance of national highways. There are many instances of state highways taking a hit due to paucity of funds after denotification.
In 2011, the Madhya Pradesh government cited poor maintenance of NHs to demand that 10 such highways be denotified and handed back to the state government. The ministry, after prolonged negotiations, decided to hand over five NHs to the state government.
However, the state government later requested the Centre to take back the highways because they were unable to provide for their maintenance.
What does denotification of an NH mean for the Centre?
The Union road transport ministry might save on resources allocated for maintenance of NHs, but converting them to state highways jeopardises the Centre’s ambitious highway expansion plans. Road transport minister Nitin Gadkari has spoken about the government’s target to increase India’s national highway network to two lakh km from the current one lakh on several occasions in the last two-and-a-half years.
Against India’s NH network of one lakh km, the total length of state highways as of March 2015 (the latest year for which data is available with the road ministry) was 1,67,109 km or 3% share in total road length.
Ministry officials said the emphasis should be on strengthening highway patrolling, not banning the sale of liquor on NHs. “Better enforcement is important. Breathalysers could have been put up at toll plazas to check if drivers are drunk,” said an official on the condition of anonymity.
How many road accidents/deaths occur due to drink driving?
As per data available with the road ministry, 16,298 of the 5,01,423 road accidents – or 4.2% – were caused by intoxicated drivers in 2015. Drink driving accounted for 675 (6.4%) of the total 1.46 lakh road fatalities reported that year.