Road Safety Crusader: Meet The Man Behind The Ban On Highway Liquor Shops
Drink-driving is one of the primary causes of accidents and deaths in India. A World Health Organisation (WHO) study reports that 30 to 35% accidents are due to drink driving, it also specifies this as one of the five key ‘risk-factors’ for road accident deaths. As per the Road Accidents in India report by the Transport Research Wing of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway, drink driving caused 55,504 accidents between 2013 and 2015, resulting in 20,186 deaths and 58,326 injuries.
In Numbers: Drink And Driving Statistics In India
The problem of drink driving cuts across states. In New Delhi, a study showed that a third of motorised two-wheeler riders taken to hospital, admitted to be driving under the influence of alcohol and another study done by NIMHANS Bengaluru showed that 44% of crash victims seeking medical treatment were under the influence of alcohol. A PGI Chandigarh study found that 40% of 200 drivers with serious head injuries were under the effect of alcohol. Madhya Pradesh has topped the charts in terms of accidents caused due to drink driving for three years in a row, between 2013-2015, according to the Road Accidents in India report by the Transport Research Wing of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway.
The Supreme Court Ban On Liquor Vends Along The Highways
Keeping these grim figures in mind and for the importance of road safety in the country, the Supreme Court ordered on December 16, 2016 the closure of all liquor shops along the state and national highways by April 1, 2017. The order specifies that liquor shops should not be visible from highways at all and should be at least 500 meters away. Banners and other kinds of advertising for liquor will also not be allowed.
Meet Harman Singh Sidhu – The Man Who Went To Court Against Liquor Shops On Highway
Harman Singh Sidhu survived a fall of about 50 feet but the tragic road accident in 1996 left him paralysed from neck down and confined to a wheelchair forever. After the road accident, Harman took up the cause of road safety and his only motto in life has been to help educate people and spread awareness about road safety.
I was in the hospital for nearly 2 years, emergency ward was my every day go-to place. I saw many people who were there because they have met with one or the other road mishaps, most of them were youngsters like me. That’s when I decided I wanted to make a change and the idea for fighting for road safety triggered, said Mr Sidhu.
Mr Sidhu founded his NGO ArriveSAFE in 2005 which works in the field of road safety and aims to increase knowledge and awareness among all kinds of road users. As a part of his work, he did lot of surveys on roads accidents in India, that’s when a shocking number related to road accidents caused by drink driving came to his notice.
In 2012, I conducted a survey on liquor shops along national highways. That’s when I found out that there were 185 liquor vends on the 291 km stretch of National Highway 1 between Panipat and Jalandhar. That boils down to 1 liquor vendor every 1.5 km, said Mr Sidhu.
He also added, the liquor vends are like island of an intersections. There are roads everywhere. Any kind of awareness on ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’ there will fail.
‘The picture of highly lit liquor shops along with the highway is still stuck on my mind.’ This was the starting point of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that I filed for the ban of the liquor shops on the highways in 2012.
“These brightly lit liquor shops along the highway are a temptation for any one!” Realising that they could pose a serious risk on human lives, Harman filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2012. In the PIL filed, he appealed that all liquor vends on national and state highways should be closed down as they are a major cause of drink driving resulting in fatal accidents.
In March 2014, High Court passed the order in favour of Mr Sidhu. The order said that liquor vends should not be visible nor be accessible from the highways. As a result more than 1,000 vends were closed in Punjab and Haryana.
As a result, “Within a week’s time Punjab and Haryana government approached the Supreme Court in order to take a stay on the ban. It’s like a blessing in disguise; the government’s main responsibility is to make sure that people are safe, but strangely as they started suffering losses in their revenue they went against the order. All they wanted was to get the liquor vends back on the highways,” added Mr Sidhu.
The battle was not over for Mr Sidhu, despite of the High Court order, there were many violations by both the states – Punjab and Haryana.
What they did is that they opened up the sale counter at the back of the shop, so that it is not visible from the highway, but the position was very much there. That just shows how desperate the government is for selling liquor on the highways.
In order to make roads safer, Mr Sidhu used to travel for over 50,000 km in order to check for the violations and wherever he found one, he immediately reported it to the government.
Finally after years of campaigning for no liquor shops on the highways, his efforts got a boost when in December 2016 the Supreme Court ordered a ban on liquor shops along the highways. The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur said,
All signages and advertisements of the availability of liquor shall be prohibited and existing ones removed forthwith both on national and state highways. No shop for the sale of liquor shall be (i) visible from a national or state highway; (ii) directly accessible from a national or state highway and (iii) situated within a distance of 500 metres of the outer edge of the national or state highway or of a service lane along the highway. All States and Union territories are mandated to strictly enforce the above directions.
Mr Sidhu’s future plan is to fight against the bad road designs in India. He has filed a PIL in Supreme Court pleading that engineer/authority should be made responsible for any road disaster.
Presently, roads in India roads are not as per the standards specified by the Indian Road Congress (the governing body that finalises road designs and safety standards), the organisation seeks to make officials accountable for not complying with safety standards and norms.
My appeal is to everyone out there – from officials to general people. Do your bit for road safety and make Indian roads safer, said the road safety activist Harman Singh Sidhu.