Observing that the Maharashtra government cannot pass a blanket order for shutting all liquor shops within 500 metres of state and national highways, the Bombay High Court today directed the state to hear and pass reasoned orders in each case individually. A division bench of Justices S M Kemkar and M S Sonak was hearing a bunch of petitions filed by liquor shops, permit rooms and bars challenging notices issued to them by the state Excise department prohibiting them from selling liquor. The notices were issued in compliance with an order passed by the Supreme Court last year directing all liquor shops falling within 500 metres of the national and state highways to be shut.
The petitioners’ argument was their shops are not within 500 metres of state highways and that the government had included even arterial roads as highways. “We are of the view that the orders have been passed by the state Excise department without properly ascertaining in each case if the shops fall within 500 metres of state highways,” Justice Kemkar said. “We direct the secretary, state Public Works Department (roads) along with the commissioner of the state Excise department to hear the grievances of each petitioner. Each case shall be considered individually and a reasoned order shall be passed therein,” the court said. The PWD secretary has been directed to hear and decide all matters on or before July 5. The court, however, refused to stay or set aside the notices issued to the petitioners.
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“We understand you (petitioners) have a right to livelihood…but the Supreme Court while passing the judgement had kept in mind the increasing number of fatalities due to drunk driving. This indirectly means Right to Life. This is also important,” Justice Sonak observed. The bench noted that the state Excise department issued notices to the shops without giving them an opportunity to put forth their case. Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the court that the government need not produce any notification declaring or classifying roads as state highways under section 3 of the Maharashtra Highways Act, 1955.
The court had earlier sought the notification which the government had said it could not procure. “It is not necessary to have any notification classifying state highways for the purpose of complying with the Supreme Court order. The Supreme Court, in its order, has used the term national and state highways loosely. The order covers even those major roads which connect cities to the state highway,” Kumbhakoni said. He added that the apex court had issued the order to curb drunken driving, and accidents and fatalities due to it.