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Municipal areas across country exempt from highway liquor ban, Supreme Court further clarifies
(NEW DELHI, Nov 13, 2017):The Supreme Court on Monday came out with an explanation of its July 11 order, which clarified that stretches of highways running through municipal areas were exempted from the December 2016 ban on sale of liquor within 500 metres along national and States highways. It said the exemption from ban applies to municipal areas across the country.

Addressing a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for Tamil Nadu, pointed to a query posed by the Madras High Court in this regard and its directive to the State government to approach the Supreme Court and clear the air.

PIL plea in Madras High Court

Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by an advocate, the High Court wanted to know if the exemption granted to municipal areas in the order pertained to only municipal areas in Chandigarh and none other.

The question popped up in the High Court because the petitioner in the Supreme Court was an NGO based in Chandigarh called Arrive Safe Society.

“The High Court says municipal areas in the Supreme Court order means only areas in Punjab and not in Chennai. The Chief Justice Bench of the High Court wants a clarification whether the exemption apllies only to Chandigarh,” Mr. Rohatgi said.

“Well, why should the High Court think that? If our order applies for municipal areas in Chandigarh it will apply equally for municipal areas across the country,” Chief Justice Misra responded orally.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud — who had authored the ban verdict — unhesitatingly observed that the exemption from ban applies to municipal areas across the country. He said the purpose of the July 11 order was to prevent interim applications like these.

The point of focus of the present confusion was a particular paragraph in the July 11 order that said, “the purpose of the directions contained in the order dated December 15, 2016 is to deal with the sale of liquor along and in proximity of highways properly understood, which provide connectivity between cities, towns and villages. The order does not prohibit licensed establishments within municipal areas. This clarification shall govern other municipal areas as well. We have considered it appropriate to issue this clarification to set at rest any ambiguity and to obviate repeated recourse to IAs (interlocutory applications), before the court.”

“The phrase ‘other municipal areas’ in the order means municipal areas across the country. The interpretation is that,” Justice Chandrachud observed.

Chief Justice Misra reserved the case for orders.

The Madras High Court’s Division Bench of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M. Sundar recently felt that the State government should approach the apex court through an appropriate application and obtain further clarification on the specific issue as to whether it was entitled to open State-run liquor shops on highways passing through city and town limits without declassifying them.

They were hearing the PIL plea of advocate K. Balu.

In the July order, the Supreme Court clarified that its nationwide ban on sale of liquor within a distance of 500 metres along national and state highways does not extend to municipal areas. It said the 500-metre ban does not prohibit licensed establishments within municipal areas.

The apex court explained that the December 15, 2016 ban on liquor sale only extends along and in proximity of highways, which provide connectivity between cities, towns and villages.

This clarification had effectively made infructuous any pending litigation in High Courts on declassification of state or national highways to district roads by State governments or local authorities. In short, stretches of highways running within city limits are now, by default, exempt from the liquor ban.

Bar, club owners' plea

In May, the Tamil Nadu Bars and Clubs Owners Association described to the court about the “crippling effect” of the ban in the State. Senior advocate Arvind Datar had conveyed to the Bench of how businesses literally crumbled and over two lakh employees were rendered jobless.

The apex court order was based on a special leave petition filed by Arrive Safe Society challenging a notification issued by the Chandigarh administration on March 16, 2017 — post the Supreme Court's ban order on December 15, 2016 – declaring three stretches of State highways as “major district roads.”

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