At a time when several state governments have found a way to circumvent the Supreme Court ban on liquor outlets near highways by denotifying roads and handing them over to urban local bodies for maintenance, the Maharashtra government, in a first, has been forced to reconsider the move under public pressure.
Besides insistence of Jalgaon Municipal Corporation that said it was not in a financial position to maintain the highway stretches, a public campaign and litigation against permitting liquor stores within 500 metres of the roads has led the Devendra Fadnavis government to rescind the move.
On Thursday, the Maharashtra government became the first state in the country to order reclassification of highways as it re-notified six stretches of over 20 km in Jalgaon city as state highways. The order nullifies the state government’s March 31 order denotifying these roads and transferring them to Jalgaon Municipal Corporation from the Public Works Department (PWD), saving 45 liquor vends in the process.
The March 31 order had made Jalgaon the first city in the state where such an order was passed to allow liquor vending units to continue. The model was subsequently replicated in other cities.
The state government had, however, said that even though it was handing over these roads to the corporations, it would not pay them for their upkeep.
The move had surprised Jalgaon Municipal Commissioner Jivan Sonawane who claimed that he had never made such a request.
The order also led to public resentment. Signature campaigns were initiated, and a PIL was filed in the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court.
The opposition was so strong that Sonawane had to hold a special meeting in which 72 of the 75 corporators opposed the denotification. “We are not in a position to take on more expenses. So we passed a resolution against taking over the roads. We also need to consider the public resentment against the move,” said Jalgaon Mayor Nitin Ladda.
On Thursday, the state government passed an order for classification of these roads as state highways and their transfer back to PWD.
“We had told the government about our financial condition. Moreover, a public campaign had been launched against the decision, which led to the state accepting the demand,” said Sonawane.