The cold hard truth, and a very bitter one at that, about the Supreme Court ban on bars and liquor outlets, is that the successive state governments have no one but themselves to blame and be held accountable, for the manner in which people’s lives and livelihoods have been played with.
Those who are pointing fingers at the august institution of the Supreme Court, - including some political parties who have stooped to mudslinging at the apex court - have taken leave of their senses and responsibilities. Any court, and more so the apex court, deals with what is presented to it, and examines it from the standpoint of law. If the existing law is at variance with existing ground realties. It is the job of the legislature to either make amendments or introduce new legislation. The third option is to press upon the court, that if the law is applied to present ground realities, as they exist in Goa for instance, the injustice to so many people and families, will outweigh any tangible check on road deaths due to drunken driving.
But the court may well turn around and ask, why didn’t state governments like Goa, for instance, act upon advisories, circulars and directions on this issue from 2004 onwards, that is 13 years ago.
None of the governments in Goa, raised or deliberated on this issue, simply because no one believed that a day would come when they would really and literally, have to shut down establishments which sell or serve liquor on highways within 500 meters of the main road. Goa stares at a situation where close to 80% of such establishments would be affected.
But no State, especially Goa can play the “we were ignorant” card. As we have reported on the front page of our Wednesday edition, the National Road Safety Council of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) at its meeting on January 15, 2004 decided that “no licences should be given to liquor shops along national highways”.
More than three years later, on October 26, 2007, the Road Transport and Highways Ministry, in a circular issued to all State governments advised them to remove all liquor shops along the national highways and not to issue any fresh licences. After this regular advisories were sent to the Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories.
An advisory, dated December 1, 2011, mentioned that a road accident occurred practically every four minutes and thus state governments should do the following:
-Remove all liquor shops along national highways,
-Not to issue any fresh licenses,
-Review licences already issued
-Strictly enforce Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act which was indicative of the Parliament’s intent to follow zero-tolerance towards driving under influence of alcohol.
For 16 years, neither has this advisory been followed nor has the state government raised practical objections to this to close or conclude the discussion. This wasn’t the last. On March 18, 2013, the chief secretaries were asked to remove liquor vends and not to issue any new licenses. This again wasn’t the last of the advisories. There was another one on the same lines issued on May 21, 2014.
It is important for Goans to know, especially those, who, like their cousins affected by mining, that they are staring at an empty barrel of false promises, and that they have not been betrayed now. They have been betrayed for many years now. The politicians brushed the threat away and the bureaucrats did not want to escalate the issue hoping all would be fine.
The road ahead will bring no cheer. Unless the state government working closing with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Road Transport and Highways ministry, work towards de-notifying some highways while thinking of a legal way out of this tangle. At the same time the stakeholders must start a parallel exercise, and convince the apex court, that new plans will be executed to control drunken and rash driving, which will work better than closing down outlets selling liquor in and around highways. All this is a very tall order.