Liquor ban: After Supreme Court order, most highways run dry
Telangana & Andhra Pradesh
Liquor shops along the highways in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh functioned normally on Saturday despite of the Supreme Court ban as licences are valid till September 30 and June 30, respectively in both states.
As the Supreme Court modified its direction on Friday, stating that the existing licences will be valid till September 30, both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh governments won’t ask liquor shops on highways to close down or shift immediately.
“We have plenty of time to enforce the Supreme Court guidelines because all liquor shop licences are valid till September 30 in Telangana. When we auction the licences again this September, we will ensure that Supreme Court guidelines are followed and no shop comes up within 220 metres of the highways,’’ Deputy Commissioner of Excise of Telangana S Qureshi said.
In Telangana, there are 1,040 liquor shops on highways. About 500 of these shops are on NH-65 and NH-44, and depending on the location, owners paid Rs 30 lakh to Rs 1.10 crore for licences.
“The liquor shops are often located at places with good accessibility and business advantage. If we suddenly shift to a new location, we may lose all our old customers,’’ said Murali Kumar, owner of Manjunadha Wines on NH-65 where there are at least 300 liquor shops.
“Excise and police officials are conducting checks at restaurants which have bars attached to discourage them from serving liquor. Action would be taken if they violate the guidelines,’’ Telangana Excise Minister T Padma Rao Goud said.
In Andhra Pradesh, there are 1,090 liquor outlets on highways, most of them on the coastal NH-16, and Hyderabad-Vijayawada highway. The liquor licence auction was held in June last year and the licences are valid till June 30 this year.
“We have closed the bars and pubs located on the highways. Restaurants on highways cannot serve liquor and they have to close their bars. The liquor shops will function till June 30 after which we will conduct auction based on the new guidelines,’’ Andhra Pradesh Excise Minister Kollu Ravindra said.
With the existing liquor licences being valid till June 30, liquor outlets on the highways in Karnataka have around three months to move to locations outside highway zones to be considered for renewal of their licences.
Out of the 10,149 liquor licences issued by the Karnataka Excise Department for liquor stores, bars and hotels, as many as 5,950 licences are with the outlets located within 500 metres of highways — 2,510 wine shops, 1,599 bars, 219 star hotels and 173 clubs.
The number will be fewer if a distance of 220 metres is taken in areas with a population that is less than 20,000. The Supreme Court had modified its liquor ban order, reducing the distance to 220 metres in areas having a population of up to 20,000.
Officials claimed that there were no liquor vends open along the highways beginning Saturday, and a consolidated report would be prepared over the next couple of days.
“It’s a Supreme Court order. We are following it. Various factors arising out of it are being considered and we will prepare a consolidated report,” said Excise Secretary Avinash Kumar.
Of the total 1,432 liquor shops, the state Excise Department has identified at least 670 shops that fall within 500 metres of the highways.
“As of today all the liquor shops on the highways are closed. Either the operators have closed it on their own or we have sealed them,” said another Excise official.
With the Jharkhand government planning to enter retail liquor business, over 500 retail liquor vendors have not got their licences extended till August.
The Haryana government is likely to lose annual revenue of Rs 100 crore as the state has to close 40 per cent of the total 478 bars located in hotels and restaurants in the state. Most of the bars licensed in Haryana are situated near the highways.
On Saturday, Haryana Additional Chief Secretary (Excise and Taxation) Sanjeev Kaushal confirmed that 194 bars won’t be allowed to serve liquor from now on. “It’s not only the bar licence fee…bars also attract customers to eat.
Those who eat also pay VAT (Value Added Tax) to the state. Loss to the state exchequer would be Rs 100 crore plus because of closure of the bars…Bars can be relocated but it’s not easy for the big hotels to move from the current locations,” said Kaushal.
But the state government seems relaxed on the issue of liquor vends as it had already made a point in its excise policy that the liquor vends won’t be allowed within 500 metres of the highways. “We have already auctioned 92 per cent of liquor vends that fall outside the range of 500 m from the highways,” said the Additional Chief Secretary.
Punjab Excise department has suspended the licences of about 2500 liquor outlets across the state. Sources said the permits of serving liquor to all such establishments on state and national highways stand cancelled.
“Not a single outlet served liquor in Punjab on Saturday,” said a senior Excise department official. He said the department was in the process of compiling the exact number of outlets. “We will take a day or two to compile. We have about 1,200 hotels within 500 metres and the rest are other outlets,” he said.
The hotels and marriage venues have, however, contested the number of establishments affected by the order. “Over 10,000 outlets, including 3,000 wedding venues, have been affected. Our business has been hit overnight. We are already getting cancellation orders,” said Sukhdev Singh Sidhu, President of Punjab Marriage Palaces-Resorts Owners Association.
The All India Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association has planned to file a review petition in the Supreme Court. Confirming the same, Amarvir Singh, vice-president of North India Hotel and Restaurant Association, said,”We will be having an all India meeting on April 5 in New Delhi where we will be discussing the review petition.”
In Ludhiana, 143 vends were located on highways out of which 34 vends will be relocated and licences of rest will not be renewed.
Though the SC order was implemented from April 1, all Ludhiana liquor contractors had shut down their vends for about a week. Annual auction of vends was postponed twice on March 29 as well as March 31 and now new dates are yet to be given. Auction has been postponed twice even in Bathinda, Moga, Sangrur districts with contractors boycotting the auction process.
West Bengal has about 1,800 off-shops within 500 metres of highways, generating a total of over Rs 1,000 crore in revenue for the state, said the state Excise Department. An ‘off shop’ is essentially a retail outlet that just sells liquor.
Last week, the government attempted to preserve its excise revenue by tweaking its liquor licensing policy, by turning off-shops located within 500 metre from the highways into sit-and-drink outlets — a move that the government claimed was within the realm of the SC order. However, the apex court’s clarification has now blocked this escape route.
An excise department official said, “We are following SC’s orders and all shops, restaurants and bars that were within the purview of the order have been shut down.”
The government has targeted excise revenue of Rs 4,778 core in 2016-17. Officials said the state was on course to achieve the target. In 2017-18, the government has budgeted excise collections of Rs 5,781.38 crore.
Nearly 15,699 liqour outlets shut down in Maharashtra in compliance with the apex court’s order. While retail outlets had to shut shop, permit rooms, clubs and hotels had to stop serving liqour.
“It is a sad day for our industry. It is not only the fear of losing out on business, but hundreds of people working in this industry have lost out on their jobs today,” said Adarsh Shetty, president of the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association.
According to some analysts, Maharashtra has a 12-14 per cent share of the total liquor market. The industry contributes nearly Rs 13,000 crore as revenue in the form of excise through the 25,513 liqour vending licencees in the state.
Of these, nearly 15,699 licencees lie within the 500 metre distance from highways. “We respect the Supreme Court but are angry with the way the state has handled the issue. Last week we were told that we could continue our business as usual and yesterday’s decision has come as a shock. We should at least have been allowed to clear out the stocks in our shops,” a beer bar owner from Ghatkopar said.
Interestingly, the state government, which fears a loss of Rs 7,000 crore in revenue because of the move, has found a novel way to skirt the ban. In Jalgaon, the government on Friday decided to hand over nearly 20 km of highway to the Jalgaon Municipal Corporation.
The move meant that these highways were denotified as city roads to be maintianed by the Corporation, which will allow liquor outlets to continue operations on these roads.
The Pune Association of Hoteliers and Restaurants, meanwhile, blamed the state and municipal authorities for failing to denotify old highways which are in the heart of the city and have been replaced by new highways bypassing the cities.
“There are about 1,950 restaurants in Pune municipality that sell liquor. Out of this as many as 1,600 have been affected by the order,” said Ganesh Shetty, president of the association.
Hotel owners are now planning to move the Supreme Court with a review petition seeking a remedy of the order.
Around 1,700 liquor vends were forced to shut down in Kerala. Besides, state-run liquor retailers, Bevco and Consumerfed, will now have to relocate 148 outlets from highways out of their 311 shops.
Kerala Excise Minister G Sudhakaran said: “We are in the process of relocating state-run retail outlets to comply with the SC order. The resistance from locals in places identified for relocation has delayed the process. In case of beer and wine parlours identified for closure, the Excise Department is in the process of sealing the remaining stocks.”
Of 5,100 toddy shops, 1,080 are located on the highways. Out of 30 five-star category hotels, 11 have had to suspend liquor bar operations. Among the state’s 34 clubs, 18 cannot operate bars as per the Supreme Court directive.
Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said the decision would impact state’s revenue. A rough estate showed that the state would lose a revenue of Rs 2,200 crore, he said.
“In 2015, when the government banned liquor sale in bars, we had converted them into beer parlours. Without beer business, these hotels would not get any business,’’ said Kerala Beer and Wine Parlours Association president Raj Kumar Unni, adding that the 5000 jobs are likely to be hit in wake of the latest ban.
The Gujarat home department has instructed the state’s prohibition department to ‘temporarily’ shut such wine shops operating on highways in the state.
A dry state, there were reported to be 56 licensed liquor shops in Gujarat, of which 12 are on highways. On instruction from the home department, the Director of Prohibition and Excise Department B K Kumar said that officers had been instructed to shut down wine shops operating on highways temporarily.
Kumar said, “For now, we have asked various Superintendents to temporarily close the wine shops doing retail sale. Based on inputs from the legal department which are awaited by the home department, we may also shut wine shops on highways down permanently… In Ahmedabad close to three hotels located on highways including Novotel, TGB and The Ramada have wine shops.”
Tejus Jose, general manager of Novotel Hotel in Ahmedabad, said that while the hotel was awaiting directives on what to do, it was also getting a legal opinion to get more clarity.
Source by indianexpress