Close to 700 liquor shops in Assam are facing closure from April 1, 2017 as the Supreme Court has banned selling of liquor near the highways. The December 15 order of the apex court stated that liquor shops upto 500 meters from the highways are to be shut.
Of the 700 such liquor shops in Assam, 321 are located along state highways while the rest are located along the national highways.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court also stated that licenses of existing liquor shops on highways will not be renewed. Liquor shops must be situated at least 500 meters away from state and national highways, said a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur. The SC judges also ordered that liquor banners and advertisements be removed from these spots. The orders have to be implemented by the chief secretary and police chiefs of the states.
While hearing a number of petitions, the apex court had indicated on previous hearings that it would order the shutting of all liquor shops on highways for the safety and security of commuters.
On July 18, 2016, the Gauhati High Court in a similar order asked wine shops on highways to follow the “distance restriction”. Based on this order of the High Court, the Commissioner of Excise of the Assam government has already instructed all deputy commissioners to make lists of such wine shops which are yet to comply with the HC order, and deal with them accordingly.
On the recent order of the Supreme Court, the Wine Shop Association has decided to appeal to the apex court to reconsider its December 15 order. Association’s general secretary Aok Dutta said, “In Assam, most of highways pass through jungles and there are not much open spaces along both sides of the highways. But in other states, highways pass through open spaces. If the Supreme Court ruling comes into effect, I don’t know where such liquor shops will then be relocated. All these liquor shops will then have to be relocated far away from highways, which will not be viable. Many families in the State are dependent on wine shop business,” adding, “In the last financial year, the state government got Rs 1,200 crore as sales tax and excise revenue from wine shops.”
It may be mentioned that the state government decided to issue licenses for wine shops to deal with growing unemployment problem in Assam. “If these wine shops are closed, the state government will lose huge amount of revenue,” a Sentinel report quoted Dutta.
As of now, there are 1,261 liquor shops, 756 bars, 82 bonded warehouses, 21 bottling units and 198 country-made liquor shops in Assam.