FIVE months after a Supreme Court order led to the closure of liquor shops and outlets near national and state highways, just over 800 such establishments in Maharashtra have been able to resume their business. On March 31, the Supreme Court had directed the states to shut down liquor vends located within 500 meters of national and state highways. In Maharashtra, 15,001 of the total 23,037 establishments had to shut shop owing to the directive.
Unlike several other states, the Maharashtra government is yet to issue any order for the denotification or reclassification of the state highways to work around the SC directive.
While official statistics reveal that it has so far permitted 821 liquor shops and outlets to relocate beyond 500 meters from the highways, these make up for just 5.4 per cent of the impacted establishments.
Excise collection is the second highest revenue grosser for the state government. In 2017-18, the government has estimated a revenue of Rs 14,940 crore from excise duties. But with a majority of the registered liquor outlets yet to resume business in the wake of the SC directive, government’s fiscal managers are worried about a sharp dip in revenue collections.
Senior sources said that a proposal to reclassify the state highways as major urban roads, which is under the active consideration of the state government, might just be the sole option to fix the situation.
Meanwhile, the state’s Excise department has witnessed a spurt in applications from the impacted establishments for relocation or shifting of their liquor licenses.
According to official statistics, the department has approved 821 relocation proposals so far. These include 369 restaurants and bars, 150 foreign liquor shops, 172 country liquor vends, and 130 beer vends. Officials further said that another 1500-odd applications for relocation were pending. The department last revised the statistic on August 7, 2017.
However, senior government officials cited several instances in Nashik, Pune, and Akola districts, where proposals of relocation liquor shops on the highways to the interiors are being vehemently opposed by local residents.
“There have been cases where a liquor license holder has not been able to resume business even after relocation due to such opposition,” said a senior official.
Incidentally, the Pune district in Western Maharashtra, where several roads are notified as national and state highways, has witnessed the largest number of relocation proposal. While the government has so far permitted 126 establishments to relocate, sources said that several other proposals were still pending. Solapur (85 relocations) and Kolhapur (50), both in Western Maharashtra, were placed second and the third on the relocation list. In the farm-stressed Marathwada region, the government has approved 49 relocation proposals in Latur, and 48 others in Nanded.
Meanwhile, several liquor establishments in Maharashtra have filed petitions before the Bombay High Court, challenging the closure on a technical ground that their premises fell within 500 meters of state roads and not highways. These establishments have argued that the state government, on April 24, 2012, while approving a new road development scheme for the 2001-21 period, had failed to notify the state highways.
While the High Court has directed a committee headed by the Secretary (Roads) of the Public Works department to individually decide on these matters, the PWD is contesting the argument, and is unlikely to back it.