A day after the BJP government in Uttarakhand decided to reclassify state highways as other district roads, opposition Congress on Saturday accused it of playing into the hands of the liquor mafia. Congress alleged the decision would directly benefit the liquor mafia by saving their businesses from the impact of the recent Supreme Court order closing liquor vends within 500 metres of national and state highways. “It is obviously a decision to help the liquor mafia whose businesses would have suffered because of the apex court’s order putting a ban on liquor shops near highways. Conversion of state highways into district roads will help the liquor lobby thrive. “It is shocking to see how a party which used to speak in favour of a total ban on liquor sale and consumption is openly playing into the hands of the liquor lobby,” Pradesh Congress chief spokesman Mathuradutt Joshi said.
Uttarakhand cabinet on Friday decided to denotify state highways located in the jurisdiction of local civic bodies and recategorise them as other district roads saying highway specifications were coming in the way of their maintenance and expansion. “Highway specifications are posing practical problems in the maintenance, development and expansion of state highways. Hence those falling in the area of local civic bodies will be denotified as state highways and classified as other district roads,” Chief Secretary S Ramaswamy had said, briefing reporters after the cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat.
However, dismissing the plea offered by the state government to justify its decision, Joshi said if that was the case why did the BJP government not do it during its previous rule in the state from 2007 to 2012. “Why this abrupt concern for the maintenance, development and expansion of state highways? It is just a pretext for helping liquor trade which is a major source of revenue for the state government,” the Congress spokesman said adding it was also indirectly an encouragement to liquor consumption. 40 per cent of liquor shops in Uttarakhand were to be affected by the Supreme Court order which will be saved by the decision.
After being reclassified as other district roads they will not come under the ambit of the apex court’s order. There are 64 state highways in Uttarakhand out of which 63 are located in local civic body areas.