Nagpur/New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday modified its order banning liquor vends within 500 metres on national and state highways, reducing the distance to 220 metres in areas having a population of up to 20,000.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar, D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, however, made it clear that its December 15, 2016 order banning such vends within 500 metres of highways shall remain operative for areas other than specified in today’s order.
The Bench has modified its earlier order in the following respects:
1)For towns with a population of less than 20,000, the earlier distance mentioned in the order prohibiting sale of liquor within 500m of the State and National Highways stands modified to 220m.
2) Sikkim and Meghalaya would be exempted from the ban owing to their natural geography.
3) All licences to sell liquor along highways would effectively cease to exist from April 1, 2017. However, the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are allowed an extension of time to September 31, since their excise year begins from October 1.
The Bench also noted that the earlier order could not be read down to only include “shops” selling liquor. In effect, the order was intended to cover any establishment selling liquor within the prohibited distance, whether bar, restaurant or shop.
Besides ordering the ban, the Court, in its previous order, had made it clear that the licences of existing shops will not be renewed after 31 March this year. The Court had passed this judgment in a set of PILs which had alleged that liquor shops along the highways were a major contributory factor to instances of drunk driving, which claimed high casualties every year.
In an earlier hearing, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had mentioned that, “The figure of 500 meters treats unequals as equals. It is my humble submission that Article 142 cannot be used in this respect.”
He also went on to note that the decision would severely impact business. He suggested that a comprehensive exercise be conducted to find out the accident prone spots, etc.
Several states, during the course of the hearings, made their disapproval of the earlier order clear, with Goa stating that its geographical limits made it very difficult to respect the 500 meter rule.
Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhawan had argued for the reconsideration of the order, on the ground that it was based on an “overarching principle” of law. Arguing strongly for the reconsideration of the judgment, he also noted,
“Such a sweeping order, My Lord…It is unacceptable. On what basis are you depriving States from giving me my license?”
Justice DY Chandrachud replied to the contentions by noting that beyond a certain distance, there was no right to a licence, which is a principle well-enunciated under Excise law.
And, now, with the Court refusing to change its earlier order, it seems like the States have no choice but to toe the line.