New Delhi: The Central government’s grand plan to build an extensive network of national highways appears to be in trouble, with several states seeking to de-notify even existing national highways. The reason: A Supreme Court order to remove liquor outlets operating within 500 metres of national highways by 31 March, and states’ reluctance to do so.
Following the 15 December court verdict, several states have requested the Union road ministry to denotify national highways within their borders to district roads, a ministry official said. This comes in the backdrop of the central government’s plans to build 41 km of national highways every day.
“We have got requests in writing from Daman, and various state governments have verbally expressed their desire to denotify some of their national highways as district roads. These include Telangana, Punjab, Haryana, Goa and Kerala,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In its order, a Supreme Court bench headed by former Chief Justice T.S. Thakur allowed liquor shops to operate till 31 March, but ruled against renewal of their licences. The court’s decision came in a case seeking to curb road accidents on highways due to drunken driving.
“A lot of state governments including Andhra Pradesh are also in the process of declaring their state highways as district roads through state government notifications,” the official cited above said, adding this has come at a time when the Centre is trying to bring more roads under the ambit of national highways and has eased the criterion by reducing passenger car units (PCUs) from 15,000 to 10,000 for district and state roads to be upgraded to National Highways. PCUs denotes the number of vehicles crossing/using a road per day.
A government official from Punjab explained the dilemma. “Liquor sale is one of the most important sources of revenue for a state government and a lot of state economies depend on it. How could we leave this source of revenue? The move can lead to further ramifications. The state governments will give licences to open liquor vends in residential areas that can lead to other challenges,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Last month, the government’s top law officer Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi clarified to the Kerala government, which sought his opinion in the case, that the order does not apply to bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.
At least three states, including Kerala, had moved the apex court seeking a review of the order on 2 February, but withdrew their applications the same day.
Kerala had stated that it was facing difficulty in shifting even beverage outlets alongside highways to thickly populated residential areas, which would annoy the public and trigger local protests.
Besides, the government was worried of a possible fall in tourism revenues, it had said in court.