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Punjab move allowing hotels near highways to serve liquor could set template for states


The Punjab assembly on Friday amended the state’s excise Act, exempting restaurants, hotels and clubs from the purview of the Supreme Court order banning sale of liquor within 500m of highways.

To be sure, the amendment does not relax the ban on the sale of liquor by stores along highways.

The state government’s move is significant as it could set a precedent for other states, most of whom are seeking to find ways around the 15 December ruling of the Supreme Court banning the sale of liquor in establishments along highways.

The Congress, which is in power in Punjab, defended the move saying it is not a violation of the apex court order and is meant to safeguard the business of hotels, restaurants and other such establishments.

“The chief minister has brought these amendments in the larger interest of the public. The Supreme Court had given an order and it was being misinterpreted in a lot of cases. The amendment bill just makes sure that hotels, restaurants and places like marriage or ceremony halls are exempt from it because unlike vends they serve liquor,” Harminder Singh Gill, MLA and senior Congress leader, told Mint.

“This is not a violation of the Supreme Court order. We had a lot of people coming to us and saying that not exempting these (establishments) would mean a hit to a very big economy and employment. This should not be linked in any way with encouraging or discouraging consumption,” Gill added.

Premium hotels along highways across the country suffered a sharp drop in business in the first few months of the ban, with some reporting losses up to 60%, Mint reported in April.

“In Punjab, like in other states, liquor brings money and not putting these provisions in place would mean a serious loss of revenue. Secondly, there is a strong liquor lobby in the state and there have been allegations of collusion between them and politicians,” said Ashutosh Kumar, a Punjab-based political analyst and professor in the department of political science at Panjab University.

The Punjab Excise (Amendment) Bill, moved by parliamentary affairs minister Brahm Mohindra, was passed by the assembly on the concluding day of its budget session.

On 19 June, the state cabinet had accepted a proposal to amend Section 26A of the Punjab Excise Act, 1914, for fixing locations of liquor vends on national and state highways, thus removing hotels, restaurants and clubs from the restrictions on serving liquor within 500m of those roads, PTI reported.

This is not the first instance of a state exploring measures to alleviate the impact of the Supreme Court’s ban on sale of liquor along highways. In April, Rajasthan denotified certain sections of state highways passing through towns.

“Prohibition is unsustainable. Tourism and restaurants help to sustain tourism and have an enormous social impact on the livability index of a city,” said Riyaaz Amlani, president, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI).

Arguing along similar lines, Panjab University’s Kumar said, “Unlike Bihar, laws to curb liquor consumption or sale will not work in Punjab. It has a precarious economy which has been run on highly populist politics.”

The big question is whether the Punjab model will be adopted by more states.

“We are hopeful that taking inspiration from the Kerala and Punjab governments, the centre and other states will also address issues surrounding the alcohol ban along highways,” NRAI’S Amlani added.

Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar has already signalled his government’s intention to amend its excise Act. The Chhattisgarh government has constituted a committee to study the excise policy of other states where liquor is banned or is being sold under supervision.

Source:  LiveMint

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