The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Wednesday issued a notice to the Punjab government after the state assembly passed an amendment to the state excise act, allowing hotels, restaurants and clubs to serve liquor within 500 metres of highways. The amendment to the Punjab Excise Act, 1914, was challenged in the high court by Chandigarh-based NGO ArriveSAFE. The high court on Wednesday issued a notice of stay and a notice of motion. The matter will now be heard on July 24. The Punjab Assembly had passed the Punjab Excise (Amendment) Bill, 2017 on June 23.
The Supreme Court (SC) had, in December last year, ordered that liquor should not be sold within 500 metres of highways across the country. The ban came in to force from April 1 this year. It led to the closure of thousands of liquor vends along highways and affected the liquor business of hotels, restaurants, clubs and other places serving liquor. The Punjab government, earlier this month, approved a proposal to amend the excise act to allow hotels, restaurants and clubs near (within 500 metres) highways to serve liquor.
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If implemented, the amendment will be in contravention of the Supreme Court ruling. “This (amendment) was done with the sole motive to dilute the SC order and facilitate sale of liquor along highways. The state’s version that amendment was done ‘to clear ambiguity’ is a political response with an ulterior motive to dismantle the foundation of the verdict,” Harman Singh Sidhu, President of ArriveSAFE NGO, said.
The NGO had fought the case in the Supreme Court since 2012. “The state should focus on the safety and health of the citizens instead of working for benefits of the liquor lobby,” Sidhu said in a statement here on Wednesday. The Punjab Council of Ministers had, on June 19, approved the proposal to amend the state excise act.