The Supreme Court is yet to pronounce a final verdict on it, but going by what it said on Tuesday, chances are the apex court will allow state governments to bypass its ban on selling/serving liquor on highways. States were doing this by reclassifying state highways as ‘district roads’. The case will next be heard on July 11. Clarifying its earlier order imposing a blanket ban on sale of liquor on highways that have led to protests in many parts of the country, a bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar said there was “nothing wrong with denotifying” highways and calling them district roads if such roads are within a city. The court said that the purpose of a ban on liquor sales on highways was to ensure that speeding vehicles don’t have drivers under the influence of liquor. “There are no such issues when the roads are within the city,” it said, while refusing to interfere in the reclassification of national and state highways in Chandigarh to get around its ban on sale of liquor along highways. The apex court said that city roads were different from highways and the idea was just to stop the incidents of drunk driving and road rage that sometimes follow. “We could have considered but the denotified highways are those which fall within the city where there is no fast moving traffic,” the chief justice said. If the SC passes any order on the lines it indicated on Tuesday, it would be a huge relief to many states that have reclassified highways to avoid closure of liquor vends and bars that has caused a huge revenue loss to them.
The observation came in response to a challenge by Arrive Safe Society of Chandigarh (ASSC), an NGO working on road safety on the reclassification of highways in Chandigarh as major district roads. Many states and Union territories have changed the nomenclature of highways in a bid to circumvent December 15, 2016 order of the Supreme Court banning liquor vends within 500 metres of all state and national highways from April 1. Later in March, the SC modified its December order clarifying that the ban would be within 220 metres of highways in towns, with a population below 20,000, and Meghalaya and Sikkim.
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ASSC had challenged the March 16 order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that refused to quash the notification on the grounds that it could not refer any law which has been violated while issuing the said notification.
Calling the notification arbitrary, it alleged that that by denotifying state highways and renaming state highways as major district roads, the Chandigarh administration had made a mockery of the Supreme Court order banning liquor vends in national and state highways. The NGO said that the notification did not state the reason or criteria for declassifying some roads from “state highways” to “major district roads” while letting some roads remain “state highways”. The petitioner contended that if Chandigarh administration was allowed to denotify highways, liquor vends would operate in residential areas, which will disrupt public peace and lead to accidents.
While the Karnataka government has already requested the Centre to denotify over 700 kilometres of national highways and 1,476 kilometres of state highways passing through towns and cities, the central government is yet to give its nod. Even various hotels in many cities, including Nagpur and Gurgaon, have relocated their main entrance to the other side of the building in order to increase their distance from highways.