- The Supreme Court sticks to liquor ban, no vends allowed on highways
- Hotels, pubs, restaurants within 500m from highways can't serve alcohol
- The court also ordered removal of liquor banners and ads near highways
"The objective is to check drunken driving and so there is no dilution of the original order passed by this court. Drunken driving as the objective is a major cause of road accidents in the country," a bench headed by Chief Justice of India JS Khehar ruled.
The ruling will affect hundreds of pubs, five star hotels and other watering holes within 500 metres from the National Highways that will have to either go dry, or shut shop. In Delhi, the court verdict will lead to closure of about 50 liquor vends and cost another 65 hotels and restaurants, located along the six national highways that criss-cross the national capital, their licence to serve liquor. This will include hotels in Delhi Aerocity.
In neighbouring Gurgaon, too, many five-star hotels and restaurants such as those in DLF CyberHub along the National Highway 48 -- earlier called NH-8 -- would also be hit. In Maharashtra, reports suggest, the ruling could impact over 8,000 establishments.
On December 15 last year, the top court had ordered all establishments selling liquor within 500 metres of highways across India to relocate on a petition by Harman Singh Sandhu, 46, who has been bound to a wheelchair after a road accident 20 years ago. Mr Sandhu wanted to make the roads safer for everyone. Nearly 1.4 lakh people died in road accidents in 2015, an average of 400 deaths every day.
But the December verdict was widely interpreted to target vends that sell, and not serve, liquor. This is what the Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi also told the Kerala government which had sought his opinion.
The Supreme Court on Friday said this wasn't the case.
The top court, however, modified its order banning liquor vends within 500 metres on national and state highways, reducing the distance to 220 metres in areas with a population of up to 20,000.
The hills states of Sikkim and Meghalaya have been exempted due to the mountainous terrain and thick jungles. The states had argued that since there isn't enough land for homes and shops, it would be difficult to find sites for liquor sale.
Small cities where the population is less than 20,000 will be allowed to sell liquor, but here, too, the shops and establishments should not be visible from the road and should be a minimum 220 metres from the state highways.
On the issue of non-extension of liquor vends licences beyond March 31, the court said the licences, which were given before December 15, 2016, will be valid till September 30 in Telangana and till June 30 in Andhra Pradesh, after which they will have to relocate.