NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a ban on all liquor shops on national as well as state highways across the country and said the licences of existing shops wouldn’t be renewed after March 31 next year.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur also directed that all sign boards indicating the presence of liquor vends be prohibited on national and state highways.
The bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, on December 7 expressed concern over the 1.5 lakh fatalities taking place in road accidents every year, saying the top court might direct the closure of liquor vends on highways across the nation and the removal of all booze sign boards from the highways.
The apex court, while reserving its verdict on a batch of pleas seeking a direction to amend excise laws to ensure that no liquor is sold alongside highways, had come down heavily on the Punjab government for asking to allow liquor shops near highways if they were “elevated” ones and the vend were under or near them.
“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 or 1.5 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 on the roads every year.
The bench had also expressed unhappiness over the alleged inaction of various states in removing liquor shops from the highways, which it said gave rise to drunk driving and consequential fatalities.
The apex court had said that revenue generation from liquor sale couldn’t be a valid reason for a state or a union territory to give licences for opening liquor shops on national and state highways and that the authorities should adopt a positive attitude to eradicate “the menace”.
The bench had also rapped the Centre for “not doing anything concrete” for the last 10 years on the issue, forcing the court to “step in”.