New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its order on a batch of petitions – both by some states and private parties – seeking modification of its order banning liquor vendors along national and state highways.
A bench of Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice L. Nageswara Rao said that in the “interest of the public health” the liquor shops were ordered to be removed to a distance of 500 meters from either side of the highways. The court will pronounce its order on Friday.
The bench said that asking the state government to shift the liquor shops was not impinging on the excise policy of different states as it was only a matter of distance of the outlets from the highways. Even the excise policy says that liquor shops can be located only at a certain distance from the highways, it said. The bench told the senior lawyers appearing for some states: “Those states which were seriously affected by the order, they should have come here.”
“We have not tested the excise policy. You have no freedom to drink and drive on the national highway,” said Justice Chandrachud, who authored the December 15 judgment. As Rohatgi named some small towns saying that the restriction of 500 meters would cross them and contended that because of the ban “the budget of every state has gone for a six”, the bench said: “You are not telling us which town will go.”
The court said this as Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi and several other senior lawyers including K.K. Venugopal, C.A. Sundram, Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhavan, Raju Ramachandran and others told the court that its December 15 ban was hurting the state exchequer and the order was unconstitutional. “It is unconstitutional. In one stroke all the excise laws within the country were whipped out,” Dhavan told the bench and asked on what basis the court had given the order.
Urging the court to have a relook at its order banning liquor outlets on the highways, Venugopal said the percentage of accidents due to drunk driving was the lowest. He said that while drunk driving was being hammered, nothing was being done to deal with accidents on account of speeding or overloading of trucks.
Giving a suggestion, Venugoipal said that those liquor shops which are outside the 100 meter from the edges of the highways but within 500 meters should be allowed to continue. However, a lawyer opposing the relaxation of 500 ban order referred to several advisories issued by the Centre since 2004 asking for curbs on the liquor shops along the highway. He said it took 13 years for the ban to come and pointed out that India had the highest rate of accidents of drunk driving.