Loss of livelihood and revenue dominated the debate on the Supreme Court ban on sale of alcohol along highways. The Centre on Monday said it would try to find a ‘middle path’ on the issue. While Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma stressed the impact the move could have on the tourism industry and said the government was trying to find a solution, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant expressed concern over ‘lakhs of people’ who could be rendered jobless with the closure of alcohol outlets, bars and restaurants along highways. “Supreme Court’s highway liquor ban may hit 1 million jobs,” Kant tweeted.
In the states, governments weighed the impact of the ban and totted up the revenue loss due to closure of outlets. With liquor revenues amounting to as much as 10 per cent of some State budgets, the impact is going to be significant but it seemed to be overstated by interest groups.
Among states, Punjab was the one making most of the noise, with the State’s Hotel and Restaurant Association making the direst predictions. “Tourism will vanish from the State and there will be job losses. There are 2,800 hotels and restaurants along the highways in the State, all of them with bars or pubs. This order will kill 80 per cent of them,’’ said Satish Arora, the lobby’s president.
Estimates of revenue losses ranged from Rs 15,000 crore per year in Punjab (excise duties plus service tax losses), to Rs 7,000 crore in Maharashtra, Rs 6,000 in Tamil Nadu, to Rs 720 crore in Assam. Reflecting Amitabh Kant, states put out claims on job losses. N Periyasamy, Tamil Nadu president for the TASMAC Employees’ Union said the impact would be on 12,000 workers in the State, while reports from Bengal spoke of 10,000 people being thrown off their jobs.
However, almost every State government summoned its lawyers to explore ways round the ban. First off the blocks, Maharashtra floated the idea that 10,000 outlets in the State can be saved if the State highways could be denotified and devolved to municipalities. The catch is that this would mean that the roads would have to be maintained by the local municipalities, which some districts were not unwilling to do.
What came out clearly is that every State is going to do its utmost to protect their liquor rupees. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana were luckier than the rest, having been given time till the end of June – or even longer – to comply with the Supreme Court fiat. That’s when their new booze year begins, and they have the luxury of awarding licences only to those beyond the 500m zone. Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh awarded its new licences in the full knowledge of the ruling, and therefore needs to close no vend.