Supreme Court directs closure of all liquor shops along highways

The Supreme Court has ordered closure of all liquor shops along national as well as state highways across the country once their licences expire on 31 March 2017. The apex court also made it clear that licences of existing shops will not in any case be renewed after 31 March next year.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao also directed that all signages indicating presence of liquor vends be removed from these highways.

Drunk-driving is reported to be the main cause of fatalities on the highways, which on an average total 1.5 lakh every year, according to official estimates.  Last week, the Supreme Court had proposed closure of liquor vends on national and state highways across the nation, besides removal of the signages indicating their location.

Earlier, on 7 December, while reserving verdict on a batch of petitions seeking a direction to amend excise laws to ensure that no liquor is sold alongside highways, the apex court had come down heavily on the Punjab government for seeking relaxation for liquor shops if they are "elevated" ones and the vends are under or near it.

"Look at the number of licences you (Punjab) have given. Because the liquor lobby is so powerful, everyone is happy. The excise department is happy, the excise minister is happy and the state government is also happy that they are making money. If a person dies due to this, you give Rs 1 lakh or Rs1.5 lakh. That is it. You should take a stand which is helpful for the society," the bench had said.

Reminding the state government of its constitutional obligation to prohibit liquor sale, the bench had asked the state to do something for the general public considering that nearly 1.5 lakh people were dying every year.

The bench had also expressed unhappiness over alleged inaction by various states in removing liquor shops alongside roads which give rise to drunken driving and consequential fatalities.

It had said that revenue generation cannot be a "valid reason" for a state or a Union territory to give licence for liquor shops on highways and the authorities should adopt a positive attitude to remove the menace.

The bench had also rapped the Centre for not doing anything concrete for the last 10 years forcing the court to "step in".

Earlier, the court had sought a response from the Centre, states and Union territories on the pleas seeking a direction to amend excise laws to ensure that no liquor is sold alongside highways.

Several pleas have been filed on the issue including the one which referred to the 2015 report of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and said almost five lakh accidents occurred last year in India, killing 1,46,000 people and leaving thrice the number injured.

It was alleged that despite recommendation of a committee to ban of sale of alcohol on state and national highways, states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were sticking to their prevailing excise policies under which licences were being issued to liquor shops along the highways.

"An analysis of road accident data 2015 reveals that around 1,374 accidents and 400 deaths take place every day on Indian roads, resulting in 57 accidents and loss of 17 lives on an average every hour.

"India being a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration, it is imperative that policy guidelines are framed to control road accidents. Also, the excise policies of Indian states and Union territories should be amended to conform to the spirit of Article 47 r/w Article 21 of the Constitution of India," one of the pleas had stated.