The Supreme Court will on Friday pronounce its order on pleas for a relook at its verdict banning liquor vends within 500 metres of national and state highways from April 1 with the top law officer saying the judgement needs rectification as the “budget of the states will go for a six”.
“Errors that may have crept in may be looked at. The error that has crept in is that what is good for national highways is good for state highways,” Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar.
He said that the December 15, 2016 verdict will have its repercussion as “the budget of every states will go for a six”.
Rohatgi said national highways and state highways cannot be compared and what can be considered for the former cannot be considered for the latter.
“All of India cannot be compared. Some towns in totality are situated along the state highways and if you say that liquor vends cannot be allowed in the vicinity of 500 meters then where will they go,” he told the bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and L N Rao.
He further said, “Some exception can be granted to the states to relax the condition especially as far as the state highways are concerned by reducing the limit say to 100 metres.”
To this, the bench asked the attorney general to address it on the issue if he thinks the verdict is not justified as the parties have done nothing since December 15, 2016.
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“You cannot come at the last moment and say that relax the conditions. Where were you after December 15,” it said.
A battery of lawyers appearing for several private parties said there was a need for extending the deadline of April 1 and sought modification of the order in terms of what was argued by the attorney general.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for one of the parties, said that refusal of licences to liquor vends within 500 meters of the highways will make states suffer a huge revenue loss.
The submission did not go well with the bench which told him, “Do not carry the state piggyback. You are appearing for a private party. States can bear the revenue loss unlike you.”
Dhavan replied if the court says that such a law is not tenable then the entire law needs to be tested, but such “a sweeping order is not acceptable”.
He said that every state has its own peculiarities and the court cannot give an order that will be application for every states.
Dhavan said after hearing the parties, if the court accepts that the judgement is unconstitutional, there will be no need to go into the issue of finding a solution as has been urged.
The bench said, “Whatever exercise has been taken in the judgement is under the rule. The judgement in the instant case was on the policy of the Centre and the judgement does not supplant the rules and after the judgement, many states decided to amend the law.
“We have not laid down a policy,” the bench said when Dhavan questioned the apex court as to on what basis the directions were given to deprive people of the licence to run liquor vends.
When he objected to the intervention of the Centre in the matter, the bench said, “You cannot say that the Union of India has no role as it has been getting the directions since 2004.”
Besides some liquor vendors’ associations, states like Kerala, Punjab and Telangana have approached the apex court seeking modification of the judgement.
The apex court had ordered a ban on all liquor shops along the national as well as the state highways across the country and had made it clear that licences of existing shops will not be renewed after March 31 next year.
The verdict had come on a PIL alleging that nearly 1.42 lakh people died per year in road mishaps and that the drunken driving is a major contributor.
It had also directed that all signages indicating the presence of liquor vends will be prohibited along national and state highways.