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No good outcome from Supreme Court Order

Friday, April 07, 2017

The Supreme Court's order banning the sale of  liquor  near National and State highways, not only reiterates many of the impractical aspects of the original judgment, but went on to assert that the proscription would cover not just retail outlets but hotels and bars too. What distinguishes, or logically sets apart, the sale of liquor along highways from that along interior roads? Apparently, the order is intended to prevent drunk driving, which is without doubt a contributor to road accidents and fatalities.  Retail outlets can  move another 500 metres  with minimal expense and no great loss of clientele. But established hotels and clubs enjoy no such luxury. All of a sudden, what was a great advantage of location is a major disadvantage. The order does not exempt outlets in cities and towns, where most of the consumers are local residents, nor does it distinguish between hotel guests and passing drivers. If drunk driving is   the provocation for the order, there can be no reason to cover clubs that serve only their members. It is one thing to order the closure of shops dotting the highways, and quite another to target establishments in cities and towns, which cannot move, and which will lose their clientele to others. Smaller administrative units such as Union Territories will be the worst-hit. Goa, a small state that depends heavily on tourism, is in a similarly difficult situation. The relaxation of the liquor-free zone from 500 m to 220 m from the highways in the case of areas with a population of 20,000 or less might only partly address their concerns. More than a third of the liquor sale and consumption points will be hit. Prohibition as a policy has had a history of failure. While binge-drinking is undoubtedly a health hazard with serious social costs, bans of the sort adopted by courts and State governments andgood intentions of the Supreme Court  does not guarantee good outcomes.

— Bhagwan Thadani, Mumbai

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