Liquor sale ban does not extend to municipal areas: SC

The Supreme Court has clarified that its nationwide ban on sale of liquor within a distance of 500 metres along National and State Highways does not extend to municipal areas.

The court, in an order dated July 11 which was uploaded on the Supreme Court website on Wednesday, clarified that the 500-metre ban does not prohibit licensed establishments within municipal areas.

The court explained that the December 15, 2016 ban on liquor sale only extends along and in proximity to highways which provide connectivity between cities, towns and villages. “The purpose of the directions contained in the order dated December 15, 2016 is to deal with the sale of liquor along and in proximity of highways properly understood, which provide connectivity between cities, towns and villages. The order does not prohibit licensed establishments within municipal areas. This clarification shall govern other municipal areas as well. We have considered it appropriate to issue this clarification to set at rest any ambiguity and to obviate repeated recourse to IAs [interlocutory applications], before the court,” a Bench of Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar and Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao held.

Litigation infructuous

This clarification from the court has effectively made infructuous any pending litigation in High Courts on declassification of State or National Highways to district roads by State governments or local authorities. In short, stretches of highways running within city limits are now, by default, exempt from the liquor ban.

The clarification comes as a huge relief for bar and hotel owners who were forced to shut down operations post the December 15 ban. Thousands were left jobless after these establishments were closed down.

Municipal areas exempt from SC ban

On March 31, the court dismissed their plea for modification of the ban and confirmed that it was restricted not just to liquor vends along the highways but also to larger establishments, including pubs and hotels.

In May, the Tamil Nadu Bar and Club Owners Association described before the court the “crippling effect” of the ban in the State.

Counsel Arvind Datar conveyed to the Bench how businesses crumbled and over two lakh employees were rendered jobless.

“Eight out of 10 hotels on Chennai’s arterial Mount Road is closed,” Mr. Datar told the court.

NGO petition

The court order is based on a special leave petition filed by Arrive Safe Society, an NGO, challenging a notification issued by the Chandigarh administration on March 16, 2017 — post the Supreme Court’s ban order on December 15, 2016 — declaring three stretches of State highways as “major district roads”.

These inter-sectoral roads run within the city. The NGO claimed the notification was issued to “circumvent” the ban, which was rejected by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Dismissing the NGO’s petition, the Supreme Court observed that the “judgment of this court dated December 15, 2016 addresses dangers to life and safety caused by drunken driving on national and State highways and specifically deals with the problem from the perspective of the availability of alcohol”.

“Roads within a metropolitan city essentially provide connectivity within the city. Chandigarh is an illustration,” Justice Chandrachud, who wrote the order, observed.

Meanwhile the Tamil Nadu government will have consultations with senior experts on reopening of closed Tasmac vends.

A senior government official who wished anonymity said, “We will take the opinion of the advocate general and then take a call.”

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