The Bombay High Court Monday directed the secretary Public Works Department (Roads), assisted by the excise commissioner, to look into representations by liquor outlets, restaurants, shops challenging the stay on their operation owing to the Supreme Court order banning such outlets from operating within 500 metres of state or national highways.
The authorities have been asked to decide on such matters by June 30. Directing continuation of status quo, the court said that the matter of livelihood lost due to such stay was not more important than the loss of lives caused owing to operation of such outlets along highways. A division bench of Justice Shantanu Kemkar and Justice M Sonak was hearing over 200 petitions filed by owners of several such premises across Maharashtra seeking a stay on the notices issued by the collector/superintendent of excise directing them to close down their businesses with immediate effect.
During the last hearing, the High Court had pulled up the government for delay in producing a notification declaring state roads as highways. The Advocate General (AG), Ashutosh Kumbakoni, on Monday argued that it was not necessary to have any such notification and the Supreme Court order needed to be taken in the right spirit. “A state or national highway is not a statutory term but can be loosely used to describe a road connecting two cities. The aim of the Supreme Court order was to ensure public safety and the aim of the order is to not have such liquor vending outlets operating from roads which see high traffic volumes,” said Kumbakoni.
He further argued that the petitioners were trying to circumvent implementation of the apex court orders. The court questioned this, asking who had the discretion then to assess and declare a particular road as a highway. To this the AG informed the court that the collectors were responsible for implementation of orders. Appearing for one of the petitioners, senior counsel P Dhakephalkar questioned the argument forwarded by the state of ignoring the statutory definition of a highway. “This would mean that a collector can decide according to his or her discretion which road can be a state or national highway,” he said.
“The Apex Court must have used state and national highway in their order as per the definition provided by law. There can be no discrimination in the matter, let one authority decide on the matter on a case-to-case basis. Don’t impose your (AG’s) thinking on that particular authority,” said Justice Kemkar. On December 15, 2016, the Supreme Court had directed a ban on all liquor outlets within 500 metres of national and state highways after March 31, 2017. The petitioners further claimed that despite this, the excise department had renewed their licence for operation of such premises.