SC’s highway liquor ban: Maha govt says it won’t apply to highways under local bodies
A day after the Supreme Court refused to relax its order banning liquor establishments within 500 metres of national and state highways, the Maharashtra government on Saturday said it will strictly implement the order that took effect on April 1.
The state, however, allowed for an exit option: the ban will not apply to those parts of highways that are being de-notified and handed over to local municipal bodies to maintain.
State excise minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule announced the decision in the legislative Assembly, but maintained that it was a policy decision and not an attempt by the state to allow liquor sale in the restricted areas.
“On June 9, 2001, the state had decided to allow municipal bodies to take over highways passing through its limits for maintenance. To get this done, we de-notify that patch of the highway, which includes the bypass, ring road etc,” Bawankule said. The state will continue to de-notify highways if municipal bodies come up with proposals for their maintenance, as it was a policy decision taken long back, he said, but quickly clarified: “This doesn’t mean the government wants establishments to serve liquor.”
In December last year, taking note of the large number accidents on highways caused by drink driving, the SC had ordered a ban on all establishments within 500 metres of highways that served liquor. On Friday, the court said the order also applied to restaurants, hotels and bars, and not just liquor vends.
The order will hit 15,699 establishments, including restaurants and bars, which will have to shut operations. It will cost the government Rs7,000 crore every year.
Friday’s order also came as a major embarrassment for the state government, which had just last week decided to allow restaurants and bars to operate in the prohibited area. The state had at the time cited the opinion of Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, instead of waiting for a clarification from the SC that was expected on March 30. Rohatgi on February 24 had said the SC’s order is only applicable to liquor shops and not to restaurants and bars. The state had even issued an order on March 31, allowing restaurants and bars to operate in the now restricted areas.
On the fresh SC order, Shiv Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik said in the Assembly that the state should to show sympathy towards the establishments that will have to shut shop. In his reply, Bawankule said the government has started implementing the SC order. “We have decided to revoke licenses of 15,699 establishments that fall in the prohibited area.” But the government will not to charge a fee from affected establishments if they apply for licenses to start operations beyond the 50-metre limit, Bawankule said.
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