316 Liquor Outlets in DK may Close on Apr 1- Not April Fool’s Joke?
Mangaluru: In less than two weeks from now, effective April 1, 2017, as per the Supreme Court’s order banning the sale of alcohol along all National and State Highways could lead to the closure of around 316 liquor shops situated within a 500-metre distance from highways in the Dakshina Kannada district. As per the statistics, there are 196 liquor establishments in Mangaluru, 33 in Bantwal, 42 in Puttur, 21 in Sullia, and 24 in Beltangady. According to the Excise dept, on NH 75 (Mangaluru-Bengaluru) there are 81 bars and liquor shops (starting from Padil, Mangaluru till Sakleshpur); on NH 66 (Talapady-Mangaluru till Karwar) there are 72 liquor establishments; on NH 169 (Mani-DK till Mysuru via Madikeri) there are 55 liquor establishments.
Though there were regulations applicable in Karnataka to sell liquor, outside a distance of 220 meters from the national or state highways, with certain exceptions, the apex court’s order has removed them giving no scope for exceptions and also increased the distance to 500 meters. The department rule also states that that the towns with a population of 20,000 and above cannot be considered a highway. Several towns that have sprung up near the highways like Bantwal Cross Rd, Uppinangady, Sakleshpur, Sullia, Madikeri, Somawarpet etc cannot be considered as part of the highways, but highways pass through these towns, with a bunch of liquor establishments all along. Kind of very confusing to deal with the latest SC’s recent order! But it is learnt that Liquor Association members in DK have approached the Supreme Court with a review petition and if it fails, they will put up a curative petition.
The Supreme Court’s order to ban all liquor shops within 500 metres of national and state highways across the country, is a move aimed at reducing drink driving and road accidents that claim thousands of lives every year- it has also issued orders that licences of existing shops should not be renewed after March 31, 2017, it said. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur ordered the removal of all signboards of alcohol vends along highways. The bench had also 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.
SC also expressed serious concern over 150,000 fatalities every year in road accidents, a majority of them attributed to drink driving. The order came on petitions challenging high court verdicts that disallowed the sale of liquor on highways. The courts had said liquor shops should be located away from highways so that they were neither visible nor accessible to travellers. 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.
Couple of days ago, I was in Goa and speaking to a wholesale liquor dealer Mr Vaz, who said, “There are around 3,000 liquor outlets in Goa (out of the total 11,000) who will face shutdown as the Supreme Court has put a ban on all alcohol shops within 500 metres of national and state highways across the country from April, state Excise department officials said today. The State Excise officials have started identifying such bars, restaurants and wholesale liquor vendors, so that their licences can be suspended and they are barred from operating after March 31. The task of identifying and ascertaining the number of such outlets has been initiated with the help of revenue officials”.
“The licences of such outlets would be cancelled forever. If these outlets move out of 500 metres jurisdiction then they can apply for the fresh licence, their existing licence will not be renewed. I have already taken down many liquor signboards of my shops which come under this SC order. The excise department has already issued show-cause notices to each outlet located within 500 metres of national or state highway before terminating the licences. The hearings would be fast tracked on the show-cause notices so that the cancellation if licences can be done by March 31. This action by SC will result in huge losses to the owners and above all many will be losing their jobs. A bad move by the SC without looking deep into the facts” said Vaz.
It is learnt that after Bengaluru, the Highways of Coastal areas namely NH 75, NH 66, and NH 169 have the highest number of liquor shops, and this order by SC has put them in a quandary. A board member of DK Wine Merchant’s Association speaking to Team Mangalorean said, “This order by SC has put all the liquor establishment owners into big problems. Liquor business is a very competitive and a cost-intensive one. There are different classifications of licences, where the Highway side licences are low priced, and now if the owners want to move 500 mts away from the Highway, they’ll have to pay a huge price for the new licence. In many places on all three Highways and various state highways, the conditions are not conducive for shifting these liquor outlets”.
Yet another bar and restaurant owner located at a busy intersection on NH 75 said, “Just foolish on the part of SC to come up with such a law. If the SC has made the rule, then there should be a strong reason for it. I am ready to shift my bar licence to a different location within the given time, but I will convert my present establishment into a family restaurant. But funny thing is that toddy shops even if they are close to the highway are exempted from this rule since they don’t feature under Excise Dept. Similarly, those outlets selling homemade wines are also not affected.”
It is learnt that in DK, over 90% of the licence renewals will come up in June, which means it is already the end of the road for the liquor stores and bars located on Highways. Some owners have not come forward to renew their licences, instead opted for new businesses. A few bar and restaurants, have even deleted the word “Bar’ on their sign boards or covered it with a tape or paper. No doubt this new rule by Supreme Court has come as a massive jolt to liquor dealers, and handling this situation has been a headache for them. Oh well!