Denotification Of Roads To Benefit Liquor Vendor
Thousands of women agitating against setting up of liquor shops in residential localities and demanding prohibition on liquor sales were in for a rude shock when they heard of the news that the State government de-notified state highways in Andhra Pradesh.
The AP State government, taking the cue from other States such as Punjab, de-notified state highways passing through the major municipal corporations, municipalities and mandal headquarters and reclassified them as Major District Roads (MDRs). Although the State government claimed that this decision was made for administrative convenience, the motive behind its move is quite obvious.
The State government’s deliberate action has been to circumvent the Supreme Court’s directive by which governments have to close down the liquor shops located within 500-metre radius of national and state highways. The Apex Court further ordered the State governments and Union Territories to cease and desist from granting licenses for the sale of liquor along the national and state highways. The Court said that no liquor shop should be visible or directly accessible from a national or state highway. The Court cited alarming statistics of the accidents caused by drunken driving along highways as the background for its ruling. Pained by the huge number of road accidents resulting in personal, familial and social implications, the Court came out with a judgement worth the appreciation.
However, the Apex Court modified it’s 15 December 2016 order following pleas from various State governments. In accordance with the modification came in April 2017, the cities and towns whose population is 20 thousand or less can have liquor shops beyond 220 metres.
Brazen disregard for SC order
Instead of complying with the Apex Court’s order, the State governments chose a way out from the impending danger of foregoing their income. Punjab, Odisha, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and lately Andhra Pradesh issued GOs de-notifying or reclassifying state highways in a brazen attempt to circumvent the Court’s order.
It is a known fact that the excise income constitutes a major part of the government revenue for any of these states. No state has been willing to lose this major source of income. It is an open secret that the government sets sales targets to the excise officials annually. Although AP Excise Minister K S Jawahar denied that the government had assigned targets for liquor sales, the growing number of liquor shops and belt shops even in the remotest places clearly point to the government’s objective. The Telugu Desam Party assured in its election manifesto that it would prohibit liquor sales in a phased manner. Soon after the election, Chandrababu Naidu on assuming charge as Chief Minister signed the first file ordering scrapping of belt shops. But nothing has happened on the ground. The State government rather increased liquor sales by establishing shops in accordance with the size of the population. The more the population, the more liquor shops has become the policy of the government. State’s excise policy allows liquor shop owners to open permit rooms beside their shops. Permit rooms have now virtually turned into bars in any given place. Besides, the new excise policy allows a vendor to set up his shop anywhere in the mandal, division or corporation. There used to be a restriction on place of establishment of shop.
As in the past when arrack devastated families both in personal and financial fronts back in the 80s and 90s, the liquor is also taking its brunt on families. Besides, personal sufferings caused to individuals and families, as the SC rightly pointed out, the road accidents are causing unacceptable costs by depriving the society of its productive social capital. According to a statistical report, about 1.5 lakh persons are dying in the road accidents annually. It is said about 70 per cent of accidents are resulting out of drunken driving.
With the reclassification decision in AP, the liquor business will continue to thrive as ever along the roads that pass through towns and cities implying the road accidents would continue as ever and forever.
Many hoped that the SC would rule against the moves of the States to denotify roads but surprisingly it came out with a remark that there was nothing wrong in denotifying state and district roads if such roads are within city. It said its judgement was to ensure that drivers under the influence of alcohol do not get on to high-speed national highways. No one expected that the SC would dilute it’s own order given earlier.
A drunk driver does not care about which road he is going on. The Court would have taken this fact into account before allowing denitrification of roads.