SC slams Punjab, Puducherry for liquor vends on highways

New Delhi, Dec 7 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Wednesday slammed the governments of Punjab and Puducherry for speaking in a language that was friendly to liquor lobby and revenue-oriented than as states concerned over people’s wellbeing.

The court’s stinging comments came as it reserved orders on a batch of petitions for the removal of liquor vends on national and state highways since drink-driving was leading to fatal accidents on such roads.

The court also said there would be no distinction between hill states and others as far as ban on liquor vends on highways is concerned.

“You are speaking the language of the liquor lobby. Vendors continue vending liquor on the highways. You should be more keen than the court to remove this menace,” a bench of Chief Justice T.S. Thakur, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice L. Nageswara Rao said.

The court asked the two government to have a positive attitude on the matter.

“You are defeating the objective by carving out exceptions,” Chief Justice Thakur observed as Punjab’s counsel said the amended liquor policy had exceptions to permit liquor shops in markets coming under flyovers on National Highways.

The Punjab government came in for flak after the court was told that in pursuance of the policy that liquor shops should not be visible, the liquor vends’ rear portions now faced the highway and their front sides were not exposed to highway travellers.

“The (liquor) stock is not visible but there are enough indications that vend is close by,” the bench remarked.

Similarly, the court came down heavily on the Puducherry administration after its counsel defended the existence of 40 liquor vends in its Mahe district on the ground of revenue collection.

Mahe is the smallest district in the country with a population of about 42,000.

“You must understand that you are appearing for the State and not liquor vendors. You are concerned for budget and revenue collection from liquor sale. Your expenses are met by the Centre,” Chief Justice Thakur observed as Puducherry’s counsel said that not all the expenses of the union territory are met by the Centre.

Taking exception to Puducherry’s stand, the bench asked: “Who is instructing you…? who is the officer who has the cheek to go against the stand of the government of India favouring curbs on liquor vends on the highways? Are you taking instructions from vendors or the State?”

Noting that counsel for Puducherry was making oral submissions, the bench asked him to put the union territory’s stand in writing.

“The Union of India says remove and you say don’t remove,” the court said, asking counsel to put his position in writing.

The apex court said the “government of India is aware of ground realities and has taken a considered view”.

When the Supreme Court was told that removing liquor vends from highway in Jammu and Kashmir was not possible as they would then come up in inaccessible places, the court remarked that let them serve liquor at homes.