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Pub owners optimistic about positive outcome in ‘highway’ quagmire


BENGALURU: In what appears to be a setback for pub owners just days before a High Court hearing on the issue of pubs operating within 500 metres of national highways, the Centre has categorically refused to denotify stretches running within the city. Responding to the state government’s plea to denotify MG Road and surrounding areas in Central Bengaluru, the union ministry has claimed that there is no bypass to this stretch to qualify to be denotified.

The buzz, meanwhile, is that several affected parties are on the look-out for locations outside of these areas. But industry insiders maintain that that is not a viable option. “It is not possible to move lock, stock and barrel to a new location. A liquor store can do it, but not a restaurant/resto-bar. Perhaps the news is arising from the fact that some are opening new outlets in other parts of the city. The question is also, how do you move? It’s going to cost a couple of crores at least, and that is a lifetime’s earning for most of those who have been hit by this ruling. Many of us have spent crores on our outlets to provide the right ambience to our clientele, so we cannot afford to move. It is do or die for us,” says Riyaaz Amlani, President, National Restaurant Association of India.

Dilip Nair, whose flagship outlet in Koramangala is 490 metres off the disputed stretch, surmises, “When the shutdown happened at the end of June and beginning of July, we were caught by surprise. We were very positive and upbeat thinking that the state government would resolve the issue. The news that we got from the excise department and other government channels was that it was being worked on and apart from that owners from restobars and liquor shops had a long march to the CM’s house, making him aware of the fact that it is not only about the liquor business that families were being deprived of their livelihood. So, we really hoped it would be worked out. But we were terribly disappointed, with the most recent news. Till now, it was all about the next court hearing and how promising the outcome seemed. Now, personally, I am wondering if outlet owners are caught in the political quagmire between the Centre and the state government. Also, since there is no clarity on the issue, we are now forced to take hard decisions. So far, we have not let any of our staff go because of these changed circumstances, but that may happen in the long run.”

Riyaaz agrees and adds, “This is a very deliberate attempt on behalf of the Centre. They have no reason for this stretch to be a highway. This is, in fact, not a notified highway. So, it cannot be denotified. It does not come under the jurisdiction of the National Highway Authority of India, which in its own affidavit has stated that the highway begins only after the Silk Board junction.

There has been a bypass that has been created and the law states very clearly that if any highway has been bypassed and does not bear the characteristics of a highway, it is deemed denotified. The Centre asked for a lot of clarification and affidavits from the state saying that it will maintain the highway.

Now, they are just going stubbornly and maliciously by refusing to denotify. With the introduction of GST, one of the major sources of income for the state government is liquor (apart from petroleum), and the Centre’s stand in curtailing that.”

But will this affect the upcoming HC ruling? “We are very optimistic that justice will be done. We are not going to let it go. We are confident of as positive outcome,” Riyaaz signs off.

Source: Times of India

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