State Governments Mull Over Denotifying Highways To Work Around Highway Liquor Ban
- Supreme Court banned sale of liquor near national highways from April 1
- This will impact liquor sales, employment & the tourism industry
- State governments are finding solutions to reduce potential losses
New Delhi: “I put all my savings and earnings to get a liquor license and set up a bar in my restaurant and now, after the Supreme Court’s ban all I am left with is this sealed restaurant,” says Hatinder Singh Rajput, owner and founder of Doada Restaurant and Bar which is located on NH-6. Rajput is one of the many bar and liquor shops owners impacted by the Supreme Court’s December 15 order banning the sale of liquor along and within 500 metres of state and national highways. The order came into force this weekend, on April 1. To mitigate the impact and reduce potential losses to the exchequer, state governments are now scurrying to the drawing board to find a way to sidestep the order and stop pubs, bars and restaurants from going dry. One of the solutions reportedly being looked at is denotifying state highways to circumvent the ban.
According to several reports, state governments in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chandigarh and Madhya Pradesh have already begun the process of denotifying state highways by converting them into district highways. The ban is currently only applicable to state and national highways.
According to some, this ban will hit liquor sales, employment, the exchequer and the tourism industry.
Reiterating this, Amitabh Kant, the chief of the government think tank, Niti Aayog, tweeted, “Tourism creates jobs. Why kill it? Supreme Court’s highway liquor ban verdict may hit 1 million (sic) jobs.”
Confusion Reigns and A Search For Solutions
A great deal of confusion seems to exist on what steps can be taken next. This mostly stems from the fact that Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had initially interpreted the order as being limited to shops and not restaurants and pubs. The Supreme Court’s March 31 clarification on the order which stated that the ban extended to all kinds of liquor vends including restaurants and bars took many by surprise.
The Haryana Excise Department which had specifically excluded bars and restaurants from closure under its new excise policy in the beginning of March is now trying to work out the way forward.
“We have asked all shops, pubs and bars to stop serving alcohol for now. We are yet to figure out what to do next,” a spokesperson for the Haryana government tells NDTV.
In Haryana’s Gurugram alone, 200 out of 375 bars have been affected.
In Goa where 30 per cent of liquor vends have been impacted, according to Dattaprasad Naik, President, All Goa Liquor Traders Association, the government has been under pressure to find a solution. To look into the matter, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar called a meeting with top excise and finance department officials on April 2. One of the possibilities discussed was to relocate liquor businesses from the national highways to interior areas.
“We have requested the government to denotify the state highways. This could save 50 per cent of the 3,210 liquor vends that have been hit,” Dattaprasad Naik tells NDTV.
Nowhere To Go
“We completely respect of the Supreme Court judgment, but with this judgment, thousands of bars and restaurants have been affected in India,” says Kapil Chopra, President of the Oberoi Group, calling the ban a “black day” for the hospitality industry.
SC ban on liquor service in hotels and restaurants will render thousands unemployed and crores of investment will go waste.
— Kapil Chopra (@KapilChopra72) March 31, 2017
Hatinder Singh Rajput adds that, initially, he was required to shift his restaurant 100 metres away from the highway, which he had complied with , and it was unfair that he would have to disrupt his business again.
“Even if we comply with the order now what is the guarantee that the ban will not get changed again. Who knows tomorrow they will ask us to shift 1000 metres away. Where will we go?” says a disgruntled Rajput.
(With inputs from PTI)