'Highways' no longer – liquor can be served along Mumbai expressways

Hotels and restaurants along Mumbai's two arterial motorways linking the suburban belt to India's financial centre – the Western and Eastern Expressways – can resume serving liquor as these are highways no more, and the Supreme Court restrictions do not apply to these outlets after the change in the classification of these roads, reports The Economic Times.

The excise department on Friday began de-sealing the restaurants and bars along the two roads after the Maharashtra government decided to denotify them as highways, people familiar with the development told ET.

The government said the ownership of both roads now rests with the planning body building the Mumbai Metro Railway and road flyovers in the city, and that it would supervise the operations of both roads for five years.

The proposal to de-notify the roads came after a request from the planning authority, according to the government note.

''Excise officials have started the process of de-sealing the bars affected in these hotels and restaurants from today as a result of the denotification order. We are expecting an official circular in this regard by next week,'' said the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India.

Major hotels such as Orchid and Sahara Star had been affected by the ban enforced 1 April. With the 31 March ruling of the Supreme Court on liquor ban on highways, around 1,000 hotels in Maharashtra have been affected, including the VIP lounge at Mumbai's domestic airport that is located a block away from the Western Express Highway.

Both motorways branch out from roads that connect Mumbai's outlying suburbs to the national highway grid. The Western Express Highway, roughly parallel with what is called the Western Line on the Mumbai suburban railway, branches off from the road that leads to Gujarat in the north. Similarly, the Eastern Express Highway snakes past the Central Line on Mumbai's commuter-railway map, and ultimately ends in a highway network that links to central Maharashtra.

''The MMRDA Metropolitan commissioner had requested on 10 April transfer of both Western and Eastern highways in Mumbai to it for five years in the backdrop of ongoing work of metro project and various flyovers,'' according to the Maharashtra government's notification in Marathi.

It further said that the government has accepted the request, and is ''de-notifying both Eastern and Western highways within the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) limits, and these are being transferred to MMRDA for five years.''

Originally an island city, Mumbai stretches in a north-south axis along three traditional railway routes and two motorways. The Metro Railway is aimed at bringing modern transport solutions to India's commercial hub, and ease the strain on the century-old overland railway system and the two motorways that run through some of the most congested suburbs in South Asia.

One Metro line is now operational, providing a link between the Western and Central lines of the overland commuter railway.

Other regions in the state, such as Nagpur and Buldhana, continue to be affected following the liqour ban, and have witnessed several closures.

Industry insiders said about 500 hotels and restaurants out of 700 establishments have completely shut in Nagpur following the 31 March Supreme Court ruling banning liquor sale within 500 meters of national and state highways.

''About 70 per cent of the hotels in the Buldhana district are affected. People have loans to pay," said Gopal Chaudhari, the head of the hotel association in Buldhana.

Aashish Gupta, consultant chief executive of apex industry body FAITH, said the association has met and engaged with policy makers at all states.

''We have engaged with them and updated them about our concerns. We hope the states can interpret our concerns in the right context,'' he said.

To minimise excise revenue loss and contain the damage to the hospitality industry, several state governments are looking at ways to circumvent or tackle the Supreme Court order banning sale of liquor within 500 meters of national and state highways.