Digital Desk, New Delhi. The Supreme Court on March 31, 2017 partially amended its order banning liquor vendors around 500 meters on national and state highways, but refused to grant any relief to restaurants and hotels. The then Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and L.N. Rao (now retired) said a balance has to be struck between public health and the danger of drunk driving to road users and the trade of alcohol. It said, the harmful nature of sale of liquor on national and state highways cannot be ignored. Drunk driving is a major cause of death and injuries in road accidents.
Critics said the court order was well-thought-out, though it was a dubious form of judicial law-making, which hurt revenue generation. The court order also raised the question of critics as to whether it violated the basic constitutional principle of separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary.
On December 15, 2016, the apex court had stayed the grant of licenses for the sale of liquor on the outskirts of national and highways or within a distance of 500 meters from a service lane. However, Meghalaya and Sikkim were exempted from this order.
In March 2017, modifying the order, the apex court said: We accordingly direct that the following paragraph shall be inserted after the direction (5) in paragraph 24 of the operating instructions of this Court in the judgment dated 15 December 2016, i.e. 20,000 persons. In the case of areas included in local bodies having population of or less than 500 meters, the distance of 500 meters shall be reduced to 220 metres.
It was clear that the apex court acted in public interest to protect road users from the menace of drunken driving and to safeguard the interests of the state. However, many saw it as a stepping stone into the sphere of governance of the judiciary.
In 2017, the applicants had then argued that an apex court-appointed expert committee (headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice S Radhakrishnan) had recommended a distance of 100 meters in terms of highways. However, the top court said: We are of the view that the distance of 100 meters with reference to the highway is not sufficient to ensure that the users of the highway do not want access to the sale of liquor close to the highway. Mere distance of 100 meters will not serve the purpose sought to be achieved.
Although the court emphasized the danger of drunk driving, the ruling affected thousands of legitimate businesses that employ millions. For example, Gurugram has flourished along the highway and has many restaurants, bars and hotels, is hugely popular among tourists and youth, and also generates employment for thousands of people – the decision caused the most damage. .
Businesses in the city were badly hit and several bars and hotels were closed. Critics argued that the problem of drunk driving can be tackled by effective policing, which is state subject, and that such orders from the apex court harm businessmen, impact jobs, and There is also a decrease in the revenue of the state government.
The problem is compounded by outright banning on the part of the judiciary or legislature. On May 8, 2020, during the first wave of the coronavirus, the Supreme Court refused to pass an order banning the sale of liquor in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, leading to large crowds across the states. The top court suggested that state governments should consider online sale or home delivery of liquor to prevent overcrowding at liquor shops.
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