States get busy renaming highways to evade liquor ban

As the Centre mulls over its options, states are on a denotification spree, renaming state highways as district roads, to circumvent the SC ban on sale of liquor within 500 metre of highways

Photo by Mahendra Parikha/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Mahendra Parikha/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Pragati Saxena

States are seeking the Centre’s intervention in making the Supreme Court reconsider its order banning sale of alcohol within 500 metre of state and national highways. The ban is applicable to bars, hotels and restaurants that serve liquor. States are apprehending massive revenue losses while the hospitality industry has also turned to state governments for relief.

The centre is reported to be considering the option of a Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court on the issue. The Centre may also support a review petition filed by hotels and various tourism industry bodies appealing to the Court for a review of the order.

Meanwhile several states have devised various ways to circumvent the ban. In Rajasthan, the Public Works Department (PWD) has denotified certain sections of state highways (SH) that cover more than 185 kilometre. On Tuesday, the Punjab government also denotified a 30-kilometre stretch of state highways, terming them as ‘urban roads”. The argument given is that after construction of bypasses on these highways, these roads are no longer part of the state highways. Maharashtra is also looking at denotifying huge stretches of state highways which pass through the bigger cities. Similar steps have also been taken by West Bengal.

The geographical location of Haryana is a tricky one. Huge parts of the roads in the state are actually part of national highways. Most of the hotels in the state’s big cities like Panipat, Karnal and Gurugram are situated on national highways, hence even the denotifying exercise won’t be of much help. In Gurugram, some hotels have shifted their main entrance to make the motorable distance from highway more than 500 metre.

In Chandigarh, the administration had notified all major roads as state highways to receive central funds for maintenance. Now the administration has constituted a committee to review the situation and the committee has approved the denotifying of state highways as “major district roads”.

In Goa, 1,000 bars are located 220 meter from the highways, informed Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. Their licenses can be renewed. Remaining 2,200 bars or alcohol outlets are being allowed to shift with no transfer fee. Goa has for now decided to wait and watch. But with a huge debt on its head, the state would not be able to carry the revenue loss for long.

Reactions on the social media are mixed. With many questioning the apex court’s decision. “What a joke on liquor ban on highways! You can't buy liquor, but you can still drink in a bar & drive. Wow”, read one tweet.

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