NMC plays ‘safe game’ to liquor lobby ‘designs’ on highways!

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At a time when a ‘hurt’ State Government is finding ways to “dodge” Supreme Court order banning the sale of liquor within 500 metres of national and state highways, the cash-strapped Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC), it seems, playing a “safe game” and “distancing” it from the dubious move.

The day the top court banned liquor outlets along national and state highways, the liquor lobby got activated and started exerting ‘mountainous’ pressures on State Government and civic bodies as well for rebranding many of its major state and national highways and take them under “their control”. The move is aimed at facilitating “open sale” of liquor by wine shops, bars and permit rooms in hotel, restaurants situated within 500 mts of highways. If media reports are to be believed, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has denotified the National Highway-7. The NHAI has handed over the NH-7 — Nagpur-Jabalpur section and Nagpur-Hyderabad section to State Public Works Department (PWD) for maintenance. This may be the first step towards providing relief to the hospitality industry, that suffered a major jolt after decision of Supreme Court to close all liquor shops, bars and permit rooms in hotel, restaurants situated within 500 mts of highways. PWD, Office of Chief Engineer (NH) issued a letter to Secretary (Works), Public Works Department, Mantralaya Mumbai dated March 8, 2017, regarding transfer of Nagpur-Jabalpur section and Nagpur-Hyderabad section to PWD Nagpur.

The liquor barons, with dubious designs in their mind, are also making a move to force the local body to take the stretches of state and national highways passing through city under its control. The liquor lobby, faced with loss of business in crores, is hell bent on “evading” the Supreme Court order banning the sale of liquor within 500m of national and state highways. However, the cash starved NMC has its own “game-plan.” The civic body has blunted the move for want of cash as it is not in a position to carry out annual repairs/maintenance of the state and national highways if it were to take them under its control. The civic body is not in a position to accept the responsibility of these national and state highways passing from the city. “We have forwarded the memorandum submitted by various organisations to transfer the road from national highway to local body. We will seek clarification from NHAI and PWD regarding maintenance of these roads as civic body may not be financially in a position to complete the on-going work as well as future maintenance of these properties,” sources in NMC said. The maintenance of these roads could be very costly affair for the civic body.

According to media reports, the NHAI transferred stretch from Km 704/227 to 729/000 of Nagpur Jabalpur section of NH-7 and the stretch from Km 0/000 to 14/385 Nagpur Hyderabad section of NH-7 shall be degraded as the NHAI has constructed the 4-lane bypass to this section and it has been commissioned. Now, the road stretch will be handed over by NHAI to Chief Engineer, PWD. On the other hand, the PWD will send a proposal to State Government to seek guidance in this regard. Currently, this road has been treated as State Highway and therefore, despite this exercise, the permission to sell liquor in bars, permit rooms and liquor shops could not be granted. Sources further said that the State Government, to protect liquor shops and bars from the directions of Supreme Court, will have to transfer these stretches to respective local authorities like Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC), Nagpur Improvement Trust or its successor agency like Nagpur Metropolitan Region Development Authority (NMRDA) and Zilla Parishad.

It is pertinent to recall that the the State Government can even denotify the highway stretches passing through Nagpur relying on 2001 circular with retrospective effect, according to sources.