Liquor ban along highways not wise

Liquor ban along highways not wise

The Supreme Court’s order banning the sale of liquor by hotels, bars, restaurants and other establishments along national and state highways and in close proximity to them is leading to grave consequences. The order was issued last year as a step to curb drunken driving on highways. Neither the court nor others would have thou­ght of the difficult issues that would come up in the implementation of the order. It was issued on the basis of petitions by many persons, but has turned out be an ill-considered one. March 31 was the deadline for its implementation. The court has now amended the order by exempting two small states and reducing the distance of liquor shops from the highways to 220 metres from the earlier 500 metres for small towns. But that may not make much difference to the overall negative impact of the order.

A ban on wayside liquor vends is not the solution to the problem of drunken driving. Better and more effective policing on highways and strong deterrent measures are the best means to deal with the problem. There is no evidence to show that a ban on sale of liquor will result in an end to drunken driving. It is likely that it will lead to an increase in the supply of illegal and more harmful liquor. Those who want to drink may not mind taking a detour of a small distance to buy liquor. Along with a positive campaign to enlighten people on the need to avoid driving after drinking, deterrent steps should be strengthened. It has been decided to amend the Motor Vehicles Act to increase the fines and other penalties for those who drive in a drunken state. It is felt that the penalties should be stiffer, including cancellation of the driving licences of repeat offenders. It is also crucial that the enforcement machinery is made more efficient and free of corruption.

Highways pass through crowded towns and cities. Most small towns do not have bypasses. The closure or relocation of liquor vends will result in huge revenue losses to all states, estimated to be about Rs 50,000 crore. They will face a serious financial crisis and may not have money to fund welfare and development activities. It will also hit the tourism industry badly and lead to large-sale job losses. The general investment climate may also be affected. Some state governments are planning to derecognise stretches of highways to get around the order. But this is no permanent solution. The government should go to the Supreme Court for a review of its order.

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