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Karnataka blames Centre for delay in denotifying NH


BENGALURU: The state government, which has been under pressure to save the liquor industry , is now blaming the Centre for the delay in reopening the vends, which were shut after the Supreme Court banned sale of alcohol along highways.

Officials in the state public works department (PWD) said the Centre is deliberately dithering on the proposal to denotify the stretch of national highways, causing inconvenience to trade and loss to the state exchequer.

“It is frustrating that the Centre is not moving fast despite we furnishing clarifications sought and the undertaking that the state government is ready to maintain the said stretches of national highways in the state if they aren’t denotified,” said an official.

The state government is seeking denotification of national highways measuring 704.5km across the state, including more than 77km in Bengaluru. On August 8, M Lakshminarayana, additional chief secretary to PWD, sent the undertaking to the Union ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH), saying the state government would take over NH stretches and maintain them as per the standard prescribed by the Indian Road Congress (IRS).

Lakshminarayana, in his letter, assured the state government would release Rs 8 lakh per km (per year) for the maintenance and the stretches would be kept in traffic-worthy condition for commuters. The letter also clarified that the state government was willing to work with the national highway authorities to work out a plan to ensure that the denotification has minimum legal and financial implications.

The undertaking came after the state government gave a pointby-point clarification on July 31as the Centre had asked for in response to the PWD’s request to denotify the NH stretches. The PWD had even shown the alternate routes bypassing the stretches so that the continuity of the national highways is not disturbed.

The MoRTH had earlier rejected the state government’s proposal sent on June 15. The Karnataka high court, in the interim, took up a batch of petitions filed by pub owners from Bengaluru seeking denotification of the NH stretches and asked the Centre to come with its explanation. Appearing before the court, the MoRTH officials had said the Centre had sought certain clarification from the state. The court will hear the case on Thursday .

“The state government wants the Centre to denotify the proposed stretches. If they don’t want to do it, then let them hand over the stretches to the state as per the undertaking. And this is the point we are going to make before the court,” said A S Ponnanna, additional advocate general, who is appearing for the state government in the high court.

Even the excise department tasked with achieving a revenue of Rs. 18,050 crore is feeling the heat with the consumption of liquor falling because of the highway ban. “The month-on-month consumption has seen a 6 % dip after the highway ban. Somehow, we are managing to achieve the revenue target so far with a hike in the additional excise duty coming handy ,” said Rajendra Prasad, joint excise commissioner.

`Livelihoods under threat’

The major concern of the liquor industry is the future of those dependent on the stores for employment; the industry is in doldrums.

While a little more than 6,000 liquor vends, including retail outlets, pubs and five-start hotels, lost licences on July 1 due to the highway ban, 3,500 were saved from closure after the government denotified the stretches of state highways to the extent of nearly 1,600km.

Around 600 outlets in the Central Business District of Bengaluru are waiting to resume business.

“For thousands, it’s a question of livelihood and it also concerns the economy. Our prayer is that the court should allow us to do business till the Centre and state sort out the issue,” said Ashish Kothare, committee member of the National Restaurants Association of India and one of the petitioners.

Source: Times of India

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