No blanket nod for liquor shops: Madras HC

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CHENNAI , APR 29,
The Madras High Court on Saturday held as unsustainable the government’s decision to allow all liquor shops within the limits of cities, towns and town panchayats to function, regardless of their distance from the highways passing through their areas.
The First Bench, comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose, passed the order on a writ petition filed by K. Balu of the Advocates’ Forum for Social Justice.
Holding as unsustainable a letter written by the Prohibition and Excise Commissioner to the Collectors on September 1, 2017, instructing them to allow all liquor shops within these limits to be open, the Bench said the Prohibition Commissioner ought not to have given such a blanket permission, without taking into account the object behind the Supreme Court’s December 15, 2016, order banning liquor shops close to highways.
After the Bench delivered its verdict, some of the counsel wanted to know whether its judgment would be applicable to hotels and clubs situated close to highways passing through municipal areas too, since the government letter covered such establishments also. The Chief Justice said her Bench had confined its verdict only to the liquor shops run by the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC).
In his affidavit, Mr. Balu had recalled that he had filed a writ petition in 2012 against establishment of liquor shops close to National and State highways which were prone to accidents. The court allowed his writ petition on February 25, 2013. Immediately, the State government went on appeal to the Supreme Court which, on December 15, 2016, directed all States and Union Territories to forthwith ban liquor shops along highways.
The Supreme Court order made it clear that the prohibition shall extend to and include stretches of such highways which fell within the limits of municipal corporations, cities, towns and other local bodies. It was also ordered that no liquor shop should be situated within a distance of 500 metres from the outer edge of a highway or of service lane along the highway and that the shops should not be visible from the highways.
Subsequently, following an application made by the State Government, the Supreme Court modified its order on March 31, 2017 and stated that “in the case of areas comprised in local bodies with a population of 20,000 people or less, the distance of 500 metres shall stand reduced to 220 metres.” Again on July 11, 2017, the apex court clarified that its December 2016 order “does not prohibit licensed establishments within municipal areas.”
Following the clarification, many States including West Bengal, Assam, Karnataka, New Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala permitted liquor shops within municipal areas to function irrespective of the distance from highways and Tamil Nadu followed suit. However, the writ petitioner contended that such blanket permission was granted to the Collectors by misconstruing the clarification provided by the Supreme Court on July 11, 2017.
He contended that the clarification was issued only with respect to the power of the State Governments to reclassify the highways passing through municipal areas as major district roads in order to get over the ban imposed by the court and therefore it could not be used by the State Government to open liquor shops freely on highways passing through municipal areas.

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