Liquor trade not a fundamental right, says SC

Court was hearing review plea on ban

Liquor trade not a fundamental right, says SC

With the hotel industry complaining about huge losses following the Supreme Court ban on sale of liquor close to national and state highways, the top court held that there is no fundamental right to carry on liquor business.

The apex court has said trading in liquor is a privilege conferred by the state, and it must be subordinate to the need to protect road users from the menace of drunken driving.

“No individual has a vested right to obtain a licence. There is no fundamental right to carry on business in liquor since as a matter of constitutional doctrine, Article 19(1)(g) does not extend to trade in liquor which is consistently regarded as res extra commercium (inherently pernicious),” the three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice J S Khehar said.

‘Not a breach of norm’

Rejecting a plea to review its order, the bench said the directions which have been issued by this court on December 15 do not breach any norm in the nature of a prohibition nor do they operate to lift a prohibition imposed by law.

“The effect and purport of the directions is that in the interest of public safety and public health, the distance from the outer edge of national or state highways or a service lane along the highway is to be maintained of 500 metres,” the bench added.

After the order, the Union government, which supported the ban before the court, is reported to be keen to find a middle path after representatives of hotel industry complained of hardships.

The court said it may be attractive to the vendor to sell liquor along the highway but that is not the touchstone of a norm which protects public health and seeks to curb fatalities on the highways.

The states are free to realise revenues from liquor licences in the overwhelmingly large swathe of territories that lie outside the national and state highways and the buffer distance of 500 metres. It maintained the bar on liquor sale and serving of liquor by hotels, bars, pubs and restaurants within a 500 metre radius of the national and state highways from April 1.

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