The Supreme Court recently imposed a highway liquor Ban under Article 142 effective from April 1, 2017. As per the ban, it is not allowed to sell and serve liquor within 500 metres of National and State Highways.
The common explanation behind applying this ban is to avoid the possibilities of Drinking and Driving and to escape from the casualties arising out of this. It has been found in studies that the intoxicated drivers commit the most common traffic offences and also account for 70 percent of road accidents in India. Drinking when combined with driving leads to lack of coordination, drowsiness, decrease vision and concentration, inhibits vision and comprehension, makes it unable to track and judge the position of the vehicles on the road, reduces alertness and ability to make quick decisions while driving and this all happens as the effect of alcohol makes it difficult for Brain to control the eyes, hands and feet.
The Supreme Court and the government is probably aiming for less number of Road Accidents and Deaths which occur due to drunkenness. By making liquor less accessible, people will drink less and thus can escape from the effects of drinking including impulsive behaviour, losing self-control, dark desires, depression, addiction, diseases, etc. It will at least diminish the effect to certain level in comparison to past situations In effect, it can save many families from unfortunate and irreversible situations.
Those affected by this ban includes liquor shops and vendors, hospitality sectors, bars, pubs, star category hotels, restaurants, resorts, palaces, marriage venues, VIP lounge at airports, revenue of state governments, tourism potential, etc. Not just that the Industry is supposed to lose Rs 1000 crore a day, 1 Million Jobs are at stake, and the states can estimate over Rs 100 Thousand crore annual revenue losses as the impact of the highway liquor ban. The glory and charm of these bars and pubs is no longer visible. There is a fear of loss of jobs, business and eventually income.
The big question that arises is that where these liquor shops will relocate. Some liquor owners are planning to open shops in areas close to schools, temples, colleges, and etc. but that will have a very bad impact on youngsters and children as well as insult to deities. Triggered by same the school students and residents have started marching in groups and rallies to close the liquor shops in nearby areas. The Uttar Pradesh government has announced that no liquor shops will be allowed in the vicinity of schools, religious places, etc. The government of Kerala is trying to ensure that the liquor shops are not relocated around populated areas. In Tamil Nadu, Madras High Court in 2015 banned liquor outlets within 100m of educational institutions and places of worship. Uttarakhand government is planning to impose time restriction on sale of Liquor sale each day and thus in effect it can soon go partially dry.
The liquor shops now need to submit an affidavit to Excise department mentioning that the distance of their premises location from the National or State Highway is greater than 500m and after that the final decision will be made by the committee. But there is need to check that no malpractices and illegal licensing happens and the Supreme Court and the government needs to ensure the same. Again, to diminish the upshot of ban on revenue, some states governments are trying to hold talks to reclassify some state highways as urban or major district roads. The excise department has begin to de-seal the liquor outlets and restaurants along the Eastern and Western Express Highways of Mumbai as the Maharashtra government has denounced them to be highways. The permitted licensed liquor shops, resorts and hotels of Gujarat, an already dry state where sale and consumption is prohibited, have approached the Supreme Court and sought relief to sale liquor quoting that the business is already highly regulated in the state and thus there are no chances of drunken driving. A Bar in Kerala has created a maze such that the distance from highway to enter the premises is now 500 metres. It raises the subjective question whether the distance as per ban would mean the shortest distance or the walking distance to reach there.
What can be the ways to diminish the effect of Ban on revenue and employment? The government must devise some ways to increase the means of wage and employment to those affected the most out of this especially the workers. Amul has approached all the affected bars to open Milk bars to diminish the effect on employment as well as revenue and in effect, players like Amul are aiming to gain by this ban.
But is banning liquor along the highway really a solution to the problem? What about those already carrying beer bottles in their cars? They can access it anytime while driving. There are many other loopholes that need to be fixed in this system. What if government has proper law enforcement, regulation and guidelines implementation in place against drunk and driving? Why not have stricter patrolling and regular check points on highways? Is the age limit of 25 years really followed? Also, the ban may lead to increase in illegal activities as well and people will come with many alternatives as well. May be the actual problem lies not in alcohol itself but its abuse. It’s time for change. A change for good.