The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered closure of all liquor shops along national and state highways across the country and directed governments to “cease and desist” from issuing excise licenses.
Expressing concern over nearly 1.5 lakh deaths every year in road mishaps, a bench led by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur said that no new liquor vend shall come up along the highways while those already having licences will have to shut shop by April 1, 2017.
The bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, clarified that those having licences to run such shops can operate till the expiry of their licences or April 1, whichever is earlier.
The police and municipal authorities, the court said, will make sure that all liquor vends are closed down permanently by the deadline. It also ordered removal of signages or boards indicating their location and held that no such vend can be allowed within a 100-m range of a highway.
The bench asked the chief secretaries and police chiefs of all state governments to chalk out a plan after a deliberation with excise and municipal authorities to ensure strict compliance with its directives.
It underlined that the directives were being issued in public interest since the lives of millions were at stake and that state governments had failed to come on board for a uniform policy to ban liquor vends along highways.
Reminding the state governments of their constitutional obligation to prohibit liquor sale, the bench said revenue generation cannot be the sole ground to let these vends continue along highways at the risk of giving rise to drunken driving and consequential fatalities.
The court was dealing with a clutch of petitions on the issue. NGO Arrive Safe Society had pressed for a complete ban. It had referred to a 2015 report of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and said almost five lakh accidents occurred last year in India, killing 1,46,000 people.
“An analysis of road accident data 2015 reveals that around 1,374 accidents and 400 deaths take place every day on Indian roads, resulting in 57 accidents and loss of 17 lives on an average every hour. India being a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration, it is imperative that policy guidelines are framed to control road accidents. Also, the excise policies of Indian states and Union Territories should be amended to conform to the spirit of Article 47 r/w Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the petition had said.
The court, in its order, also lent credence to a recommendation made by the Road Safety Committee, headed by its former judge K S Radhakrishnan, which had also recommended banning of all liquor vends along highways.