Chandigarh: Punjab State Excise and Taxation Department is planning to ban issuance of temporary licences for serving liquor in marriage palaces following a Supreme Court ruling ordering closure of all liquor vends and hotels in the 500 meters of National and state Highways.
Licences of existing shops will not be renewed after March 31 next year, the SC had ordered
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur ordered removal of all signboards of alcohol vends along highways.
“We would not like any vend on national highways, state highways, advertisements, or signage about availability of liquor shops. All signboards should be removed. Roads should be absolutely free from any distraction or attractions. Visibility is the first temptation,” Justice Thakur said.
Last week, the bench made it clear that such an order was necessary for the safety and security of highway commuters who get tempted to down a few drinks after seeing liquor shops. It also expressed serious concern over 1,50,000 fatalities every year in road accidents, a majority of them attributed to drunk driving.
The top court came down heavily on states for not paying heed to the Centre’s advice not to give licence to shops selling alcohol along highways.
“You can start a door delivery of liquor,” the bench told the counsel for Jammu and Kashmir, who argued that people will face difficulties because of the state’s terrain in accessing the shops if they are put away from the highway.
The Punjab government’s counsel had faced the court ire.
“You are acting like a mouthpiece for the liquor lobby by defending the policy. You want the excise minister to be happy, make the government happy… let 1.5 lakh people die but you must serve liquor.”
The court was shocked to learn that there were 62 liquor shops along a 1km stretch on the national highway in Mahe district, Puducherry. The place is a haven for tipplers from Kerala where drinking and sale of alcohol is prohibited.
Advocate R S Bajaj of Punjab and Haryana High Court said that the move to ban sale of liquor in marriage palaces would be illegal. The palaces do not sell liquor they just serve whenever clients demanded it. A temporary licence was issued to procure liquor and serve it to the gathering not to sell it.
The owners of marriage palaces located within 500 meters of the National and state Highways were perturbed at the proposal of the Punjab Excise and Taxation Department would put them out of business.
The owners argued that in the first place the Apex court did not make any reference to the marriage palaces while issuing fresh orders. The Punjab government was going a step ahead of the Supreme Court order by including marriage palaces under the same order.
The major hotels and resorts situated along the Highways had also protested at the ban by the SC. They argued that such decisions should be made clear to the investors prior to their constructing the hotels and resorts. At this stage the court verdict would heavily affect their investment.