After SC's tweak in judgement, surge in alcohol-shops on highways
Road safety activist Harman Sidhu's incessant fight to make highways alcohol-free turned fruitful when the Supreme Court put a ban on liquor vendors 500 meters from highways in April 2017. However, a modification in the apex court's judgment months later led to a surge in alcohol shops along highways. This disappointed Sidhu, but he hasn't given up the fight, nor does he plan to.
Who is Harman Sidhu and why he wants highways-sans-alcohol
Decades ago, a road accident in the Morni Hills left Harman Sidhu paralyzed from the waist down. Twenty years ago, he started the NGO 'Arrive Safe' to make India's roads safer. When he first approached the Punjab and Haryana high court in 2012 seeking a ban on alcohol on highways, he hoped people would not lose their lives because of drunk driving.
Sidhu's fight for alcohol-free highways hasn't been sans threats
Harman Sidhu's fight with the liquor lobby put him in grave danger. He got threat letters and calls, and stones were pelted at his house. The activist says the Chandigarh Police hasn't filed an FIR in these cases despite him making complaints.
Supreme Court bans alcohol on highways, then modifies order
The Supreme Court on April 1, 2017, banned all liquor vendors within 500 meters of state and national highways. But in July, the apex court modified the judgment saying licensed bars and beverage outlets within municipal areas were exempted from the ban. National Highway Authority of India Project director VK Sharma admitted that after the modification, there has been a surge in liquor vendors.
Where is the Supreme Court order being implemented, asks Sidhu
"Most highways either come under municipal corporations, municipal councils or gram panchayats, which have been given exemption. The result is that liquor vendors have mushroomed more than ever before on them. I wonder where the Supreme Court order is actually being implemented today," said Sidhu.
Chandigarh taught 'jugaad' to other states for going around SC-order
A miffed Sidhu revealed the Chandigarh administration's policy of convenience. Earlier, to get money from the Center for repairing roads, it labeled city roads as National Highways. The result? A city of 10mn had 20 National Highways. But "when they wanted to earn revenue from liquor, they changed the nomenclature back to city-roads. You expect such 'jugaad' from businessmen, not the government," said Sidhu.
Sidhu isn't giving up, approaches Punjab and Haryana high court
In the latest development, Sidhu approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking correction of the situation. On March 27, the HC ordered that no alcohol shops will open along the highways without the permission of NHAI. After the order, Sidhu asked the court to check the compliance and alleged shops were running without NHAI permission. He attached photographs to assert his claim.
What the High Court said in its judgment
"It shall be for the highway administration to examine individual cases and determine the proximity of the location of liquor vend to the towns, cities, and villages on the highways within the municipal areas keeping in view the safety and convenience of traffic," HC ruled.