The Bench headed by Honourable Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court passed an Order for the removal of liquor shops existing along highways. This is a major milestone in road safety for the region, a landmark legal precedent in India. ArriveSAFE had filed the Public Interest Litigation (PIL), faced strong and well-funded opposition, legal hurdles and delays, even threats to his person, during the campaign.
The area suffers alarmingly high rates of alcohol related road crashes, and with roadside alcohol stalls dotted along the highways, access to alcohol was a major contributor. This ruling will save lives and protect families.
Drink Driving in India
Sale of Liquor along Highways –adversely affects awareness and enforcement on drink driving
Driving under the influence of liquor is one of the major risk factors. With the increased confidence level after drinking, compromised cognitive skills it affects human behavior towards other major risk factors as well like wearing of helmets or crash helmets, driving at excessive speed and use of mobile.
Globally: Driving under the influence of alcohol finally is responsible, for 30 to 50 per cent of road deaths and serious causalities.
Indian: As per World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention published by the World Health Organization.
a) In New Delhi, India, a study showed that a third of motorized two-wheeler riders taken to hospital admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol (94). Ref: Mohan D. Traffic safety and health in Indian cities. Journal of Transport and Infrastructure, 2002, 9: 79–94.
b) A study done in Bangalore found that 44% of crash victims seeking medical treatment were under the influence of alcohol (NIMHANS, Bangalore).
c)Alcohol and Drug Use in Injured Drivers – An Emergency Room Study in PGIMER, Chandigarh;a Regional Tertiary Care Centre (Published in Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research)
The study found substance consumption in 54.5% of drivers and alcohol (40.5%) was the most prevalent substance consumed followed by opiates (13%), cannabis (7%) and benzodiazepines (7%). More than one substance was shown in urine of 11.5% of drivers.
The Challenges: Liquor shops along highways
The Global status report on alcohol and health 2014 by WHO states that the strategies regulating availability of alcohol is a cost-effective policy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.
Way back in 2004, the National Road Safety Council, India decided that liquor shops along the National Highways should be removed. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India issued circulars to the States in 2007, 2011 and again in 2013 to close down the liquor shops along the National Highways.
Letters from Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (Road Safety Cell) to Chief Secretaries of all States/UTs) – Strict enforcement of Section 185 of MV Act 1988 against drunken driving including removal of Liquor Shops along National Highways.
Excise Policy, a state subject governs the sale of liquor. The states give all possible liberties to the liquor traders as sale of alcohol generates maximum revenue. The Excise Policies never mention the clear locations of the liquor vends(official papers mention revenue limit of villages). This gives liberty to the traders to open vends at locations of their choice.
As per the Excise Policies:
• Liquor shops are setup in temporary structures abutting highways.Probably, the only business that can operate from agricultural land without any mandatory permissions like CLU certificate (Change of Land Use), highway authority, forest and electricity department etc.
• If a Liquor Shop remains operational at a given location for one year, the shop can operate from the same location for years to come.
• “Government approved Taverns” setup next to the liquor vends further prompted the road users to stop for a drink.
• Though advertising of alcohol is banned but the liquor vends put giant billboards showing cricket and Bollywood stars endorsing brands. Further, the IPL (Indian Premier League) teams endorse brands and item songs in movies glorify drinking and driving.
|Liquor shop along a busy National Highway||Liquor shop on an island of an intersection, roads on all sides|
|Photos of liquor shops along highways|
Step 1 – Collecting information and evidence
We filed applications under RTI Act (Right to Information Act) to get data from National and State Departments on Roads, Transport, Police, Health, Land Records, Forests, Fire and Electricity etc. besides the Excise Department.
Further, we did in-depth study of the Excise Policies of the States and did photography of liquor vends along highways.
Startling facts : The NHAI provided a copy of a letter sent to the Deputy Commissioners of nine districts:
• 185 liquor shops vends on a 291 kilometres stretch of National Highway 1 in the North Indian States of Punjab & Haryana.
• Their regional office had to various state authorities from time to time and commented, “but concrete action is yet to be taken in the absence of lack of support from various quarters. It is well known that influential people own the liquor shops and removal of unauthorized encroachments will not be possible unless the support of district administration is available in a proactive and continuous manner.”
So one vend at every 1.5 kilometers. If one drives at the National Speed Limit of 90 Km/Hr, one would come across a well-decorated liquor shop every one minute tempting the driver to stop for a drink.
Similarly, all National and State Highways were dotted with Liquor Shops open virtually 24 hours a day. Most of them so close to the road that one just stretches out an arm out of the car window and the salesman hands over the bottle.
Step two: Requested state governments to close liquor vends
We met the Ministers and Bureaucrats requesting them to amend the Excise Policies so liquor shops are not setup along the Highways. Rather they expressed their “inability” to act against the powerful businessmen and justified the location by saying that the States got crores of rupees (millions of dollars) as revenue per year through Excise Tax that is utilized for welfare activities.
They were completely insensitive towards the lives being lost and families getting shattered due to the avoidable road crashes. Further, as per various studies the expenditure on health and loss due to wastage of account of
1. Effect on Work & Employment
2. Consequences of Drink Driving on Personal Life and Family
3. Consequences of Drink Driving & Community
4. Financial Consequences of Drink Driving
To my utter surprise, instead of a positive response, I started getting threats to my life.
Step three: Seeking relief from the Court
We filed Public Interest Litigation in the High Courts of Punjab and Haryana at Chandigarh and Rajasthan at Jaipur.
• The Punjab and Haryana High Court in its interim order dated 30.07.2013 directed the States to remove the advertisement hoardings.
• In its final judgment on 18.03.2014, the Court ordered that the liquor vends should neither be accessible nor visible from the highways implying that they would cease to exist.
• The Rajasthan High Court in its order date 23.03.2015 directed the state that the liquor vends should be located at least 150 meters away from the highways.
Step four: Getting the order implemented
The States amended their Excise Policies and were passed in the Legislative Assembles of these States. Still, getting the order implemented is a challenge, as we have to do the job of an enforcement agency.
Instead of complying with the order the liquor vend owners made a smart move.All across the states, thedirections of the sale counters were changed to the sides, not directly facing the highways. The locations remained the same. Exactly same exercise done by all liquor vend owners pointed strongly suggested that the authorities had advised them to do so.
We moved the court again and filed “contempt of court orders” cases. The states were forced to remove the liquor vends from the national highways. More than 90% of the liquor shops along the national highways are now closed. There are more than 100 litigations between the contractors and the states, the contractors blaming the state for not informing them about the court orders. They are seeking a refund citing heavy losses. The business sentiment can be gauged from the fact that the Government reduced the minimum-bidding price by more than 60%.
Public pressure grew and the media extensively covered any violation of the order. There were many instances where the local people closed/locked liquor shops that were setup against the orders. We never expected such huge support from the public; this just reflects that the people didn’t want these liquor shops there but earlier couldn’t take this step out of fear of the liquor mafia.
Three state highways were notified as national highways in September 2014 in Punjab state. The state government auctioned liquor vends along these highways hoping that our teams would not notice this violation. Once, again we had to move court apprising them of the violations. The court again directed the state to close down these shops.
Fight still on: States move Supreme Court
The States filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court of India seeking permission to operate liquor shops on state highways. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has ordered status quo of implementation of the High Orders on the State Highways. As a result, the liquor shops are still operating along State Highways.
Their plea is that state highways pass through townships and removing liquor shops from these highways would further reduce the revenue of the state. The case is going on in the apex court since March 2014 and there have been more than 10 hearings but the order has yet to be passed.
Our point is very clear; if drunken driving is dangerous on the national highways it is dangerous on the state highways as well. Rather, the risk is higher on the state highways as most of them have two-way traffic movement.
Repeated statements by the states that revenue reduces substantially if liquor vends are moved away from highways, clearly suggest that road users are their main clients. No bill/invoice is generated on purchase of a liquor bottle, the liquor vend operators charge as per their will.
The a DB of the Hon’ble SupremeCourt on8th September 2015 ordered that a meeting of the concerned authorities from the States, Union Territories and the Union Government is held to have a fresh look at the Model Police for Alcoholic Beverages & Alcohol. The order further says, “it would be more appropriate if the policy is revisited with regard to the location of liquor vends and sale of alcoholic beverages and alcohol in the proximity of the National Highways and the State Highways. ArriveSAFE will be entitled to participate in the meeting in any event.
How to report a violation
If you find a liquor shops, which is visible or accessible you can report the violation. As per the Court Orders the Excise Department is duty bound to remove it:
2. Send it through registered post or speed post
3. If action is not taken within 2-3 weeks you can file an application under RTI Act to know status of the complaint
What’s Next: Getting the same implemented in other states
With two-year experience on dealing with the Governments of two States, we have started working on the same done in four States of North India. We have started collecting the data on the same lines. The situation is same in other States of the Country as far as liquor shops are concerned. India is a large country with an estimated population of nearly 1.25 billion people.
In States like Delhi, the Government directly runs liquor business and even the State Excise Department ignore the repeated advisories issued by the National Road Safety Council and Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India in 2004, 2007, 2011 and 2013 that there should not be any liquor shop along the highways.
Besides this, we are writing to the Ministers and Members of Parliament of the newly formed Government to convince their State Governments to respect and Advisories and implement them.
The latest WHO Report has further strengthened our campaign as it also states that, “A known effective strategy is regulating commercial and public availability of alcohol.”
Keep the members of local Community Based Organizations (Panchayats: local bodies of the villages, which are elected through voting and approved by Government) and Municipal Council/Corporations informed and educated on the process they can use to get a liquor shop removed if ever a businessman tries to start the business illegally. The CBOs and local NGOs would be made aware of how to use the references of the Policy, authorities to be contacted to ensure enforcement. The general sentiment of the public is against these shops and these members are accountable to the people if they want to stay members. This would setup a parallel enforcement mechanism besides the state machinery to keep an eye.
The result has already started showing, as there were no bidders for Liquor Shops that were close to areas where even the roads would be constructed in the coming months.
Research shows that drink driving is one of the major causes of crashes, injuries and fatalities and a reduction in drunken drivers on the roads would have a cascading effect on other behavioural aspects of driving. This marathon and life-risking exercise of fighting relentlessly against the combined power of a group of State and Non-State Players would surely result in making roads safer.