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Two months after a Supreme Court order led to closure of alcohol-selling establishments near highways, there is now some hope for about 7,000 of these in Maharashtra. It is an ‘oversight’ by the state administration that has triggered the fresh hope. On April 24, 2012, when the Maharashtra government had newly approved the road development scheme for 2001-2021 period, it had failed to notify the state highways.
While the whole 3.36 lakh kilometre road network was notified, none was defined as state highway. The state’s approval was for 4,501 kms of National Highways, 812 kms of expressways, 7,035 kms of main state roads, 37,755 km of state roads, 51994 km of main district roads, 61,159 km of other district roads, and 1.76 lakh km of rural roads. The new road scheme applied from May 1, 2012. Taking a strict view of highway accidents, the Supreme Court had ordered closure of all establishments-wine shops, country liquor shops, hotels, beer bars and beer shops-selling alcohol within 500 metres of national and state highways across the country from April 1.
In Maharashtra, 15,001 of the total 23,037 establishments had shut down following the order.2 months on, an oversight by govt gives 7,000 liquor businesses fresh hopeWith the closure of the establishments adversely hitting tax revenues, five BJP-ruled states, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana, and two others have already denotified their state highways but the Maharashtra government was yet to act on the cue.
It was then that the oversight came to the fore. Several liquor establishments filed petitions before the Bombay High Court challenging the closure on the ground that their premises fell within 500 metres of ‘state roads’ and not ‘state highways or national highways.’
On June 12, 2017, while Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who was appearing for the state, justified the closure of such units, submitting that the orders had been passed “taking into consideration the fact that the establishments stood covered by the SC orders”, the HC division bench of Justice Shantanu Kemkar and Justice M S Sonak directed the Secretary, Public Works Department (Roads), Maharashtra government, to decide the “greivances of the petitioners and the contention that the SC orders were not applicable to them.” The court further ordered that all such petitions (500 of them in all) were to be treated as representations, which should be considered by the Secretary (Roads), who has been directed to pass reasoned orders in all such cases before July 5, 2017. Hearings in this regard will take place before Secretary (Roads) between June 21 and July 1, said sources.
On June 8, the Public Works Department, in an internal communication, said the roads notified as main state roads and state roads in the 2012 notification were to be regarded as state highways. But senior sources feel that the argument won’t stand legal scrutiny. Roads have to be notified as state highways, which has not been done, said a senior official. Nearly 7,000 establishments exist on such roads, said officials. In 2017-18, the government has estimated a revenue of Rs 14,300 crore from the excise.