Clampdown on liquor vends along highways continues, evokes criticism

The clampdown continued across major cities while long queues of tipplers were visible outside vends still selling liquor.

New Delhi/Mumbai: The drive to close down liquor outlets along highways continued today across the country evoking divergent views, even as restaurant and hotel owners who are staring at losses looked towards state governments for support.

The clampdown continued across major cities while long queues of tipplers were visible outside vends still selling liquor.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar supported the Supreme Court order barring the sale of liquor within 500 metres of national and state highways, found appreciation but added that such "piecemeal attempts" would, not serve much purpose and sought a total ban on alcohol in the country.

Speaking to reporters, Nitish, who has banned alcohol in Bihar said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should implement it as a tribute to Mahatama Gandhi.

BJP MP Kirron Kher differed as she questioned the logic of not allowing liquor sale in five star hotels. It is a question of "more than a million jobs", she said pointing out that the hotel industry is a major job generator.

Kher's party colleague and MLA from Indore Sudarshan Gupta however demanded the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan a complete ban on liquor in Madhya Pradesh.

In Delhi, several bar and restaurant owners contested the the 500 metres distance as measured by the excise department and made representations. Their claims are being verified.

Over 100 liquor bars and outlets have been told not to serve liquor in the capital, most of them located on the National Highway 8 stretch between Airport and Mahipalpur.

In Mumbai, the Hotel And Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI) has decided to take up the issue with Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis.

"We will be meeting the Chief Minister tomorrow to discuss the impact of liquor ban on employment and other issues related to the industry," HRAWI President Dilip Datwani said.

Around 9,925 restaurants and bars in Maharashtra have been impacted after the Supreme Court order, including nearly 50 star rated hotels, according to industry estimates.

In Punjab, the wedding season is in full swing and marriage palaces owners claim that the excise department's action asking them not to provide liquor is not in the right spirit.

"In the SC order, there is no mention of marriage palaces which have been barred from serving liquor. Moreover, there is a ban on sale of liquor in the order while marriage palaces do not sell or purchase liquor.”

"Customers who organise functions in palaces serve liquor to their guests. Therefore, marriage palaces should not be barred from serving liquor," said Sukhdev Singh Sidhu, president, Punjab Marriage Palace and Resort Association.

The Excise department in the state has now sought the opinion of the state Advocate General on the matter, officials said.

The Odisha government has estimated that it is likely to incur a loss of revenue to the tune of Rs 1200 crore per annum as 1167 liquor shops in the state were barred from serving liquor.

"The state is likely to lose Rs 1200 crore per annum plus VAT if these 1167 liquor shops remain closed for the year," a senior official in the Odisha Excise department said adding that the state had set a target of earning above Rs 3300 crore as excise revenue in 2017-18 fiscal.

Apart from revenue loss due to closure of liquor shops located within 500 meters from the National and State highways, a large number of people also apprehend loss of jobs.

Left high and dry following the liquor ban on highways, owners of affected hotels, bars and restaurants owners in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh are now pinning hopes on their respective governments to save their trade.

They have also decided to meet Union culture and tourism minister Mahesh Sharma and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to discuss about the impact of Supreme Court order banning sale of liquor within 500 meters of state and national highways.

"Alone 25,000 people will be jobless in Haryana alone because of the ban on serving liquor (within 500 metres of highways)," Hotel and Restaurant Association of Haryana (HRAH), President, Manbeer Chaudhary said today.

Long queues of tipplers were seen in front of liquor shops at various places across Kerala for the second day today following closure of nearly 2000 outlets abutting the national and state highways.

The first day of each month is a dry day in the state Kerala is staring at a revenue loss of about Rs 5000 crore due to the closure of 1956 outlets following the apex court order.

The state's Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said the revenue loss would adversely impact the funding of the government. To overcome the crisis, government was mulling various options, he said.

According to sources government plans to relocate the outlets as per the apex court directive. There were also proposal to open more counters in the outlets to meet the demand of tipplers.

In many places, police had to intervene to control the people standing in queues for hours in front of outlets which were open.

The Supreme Court had in a recent order held that liquor vends within 500 metres of national and state highways will have to shut down from April 1. For areas having population up to 20,000, it has allowed liquor vends at a distance of 220 metres from the highways.

( Source : PTI )
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