FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
A court order, a consensus from below
Updated:Apr 12, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
The recent order of the apex court banning the sale of alcohol within 500 m of national and state highways (220 m for towns with a population of less than 20,000) is at the centre of fierce criticism from the supporters of free liquor. Their arguments are based on the grounds of revenue losses, the adverse impact on the hospitality industry and loss of jobs. They have also questioned the Supreme Court for being moralistic, impractical and guilty of judicial overreach.
 
What such criticism fails to understand, however, is that the Supreme Court does not make laws — it is called upon to only interpret them. The judiciary is not expected to by-pass Article 47 of the Constitution with its unequivocally clear directive that “the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health”. Since the 1950s the courts have interpreted Article 47 to develop a body of jurisprudence that puts alcohol in the category of res extra commercium, that is, no industry can claim a fundamental right to deal in this substance. The right as well as the duty lies with the government to regulate the supply of liquor through licensing and other mechanisms.
 
Tomorrow, liquor-supporters could well start a campaign to repeal Article 47, but as long as it remains on the statute books, the courts are well within their jurisdiction to interpret and implement the same.
 
These same liquor-supporters were pretty loud in their criticism of Bihar’s prohibition policy. At that time, they posed as “regulationists” — regulate alcohol instead of banning it, they said. We would request the liquor-supporters, many who consider themselves part of the liberal intelligentsia, to take this opportunity to spell out their idea of regulation. How much liquor on a highway, or in an area generally, would be too much? Or are they for absolute free flow of alcohol, at all times and everywhere?
 
The apex court order has started a deluge of statistical analyses about the exact percentage of highway accidents caused due to drunken driving, the annual numbers of casualties and injuries resulting therefrom, etc., and the figures from various sources contradict each other. We find this debate around numbers interesting, yet pointless. A sensitive society ought to consider even one such death too many. One could take a cue from the Swedish Parliament which has adopted a Road Traffic Safety Bill, advocating “Vision Zero” — creating a system wherein eventually, deaths and injuries due to road accidents would be reduced to a zero. A more pertinent question is whether removal of liquor vends from highways is the effective way of curbing accidents due to drunken driving.
 
The Global Policy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol published by WHO considers regulation strategies as one of the “essential measures that prevent easy access to alcohol by vulnerable and high-risk groups”. While it is true that habitual drinkers are not going to be deterred by the distance of 500 m, the apex court’s order sends a signal that the state should do everything in its power to ensure that alcohol is not effortlessly available on either side of the highways. All states have excise policies that do not allow liquor vends within a certain distance of religious, educational institutions, bus stands, etc. If this is considered a reasonable restriction on the sale and consumption of liquor, why should the apex court’s order not be seen in the same light — as a reasonable restriction imposed for the sake of public safety on highways?
 
A picture has been painted that banning alcohol on highways is the only measure being promoted by the judiciary to ensure road safety. It needs to be emphasised that in April 2014, the Supreme Court set up a Committee on Road Safety headed by Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan, which has made recommendations on several aspects of road safety, including stricter enforcement of laws regarding over-speeding, red light-jumping, use of seat belts and helmets, establishment of hospitals and trauma centres on highways, engineering measures for safer roads, public road safety education, etc., in addition to criminal prosecution in cases of drunken driving.
 
In other words, the banning of alcohol vends on highways is part of a multi-pronged approach to road safety emerging from public interest litigation on this issue. Being the most controversial aspect, it has attracted the highest media and public attention.
 
Therefore, the emphasis needs to remain on effective implementation, not only of the ban on alcohol on highways, but of the entire gamut of road safety measures proposed by expert committees over several years. This is going to be a serious challenge, given the apparent unwillingness of the state governments thus far — it is not as if they are only reluctant to implement the ban on alcohol, there is an overall lackadaisical attitude towards policing the highways, ensuring mobile squads with breathalysers, providing prompt trauma care to accident victims and so on.
 
While most of the detractors are well-to-do people from cities (more likely to travel in cars and stop for a drink on the highway), there is a vast population, especially amongst rural women, who are welcoming the apex court’s orders. We struggle hard to shut down one shop and the court has closed down ten thousand at a single stroke, many say. Women fighting for prohibition in their own villages, mohallas, districts and towns rejoice as shop after liquor shop downs its shutters. Beginning with prohibition in Bihar, there is an increasing demand across the country that alcohol be banned. Gradually but surely, a consensus has built up at the grassroots against liquor and it has gained immeasurable strength through the Supreme Court’s firm ruling.
 
Source: Indian Express, April 10, 2017
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image Ties between India and Japan are probably at their best ever, Japanese Ambassador to India H.E. Kenji Hiramatsu told India Review & Analysis’ Nilova Roy Chaudhury, as he outlined how the two countries have moved closer. Ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit
 
read-more
The eight members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) should strengthen cooperation against terrorism and build it into its framework, India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said in New York on September 20.
 
read-more
That regional cooperation in South Asia is lower than optimal levels is well accepted. It is usually ascribed to – the asymmetry in size between India and the rest, conflicts and historical political tensions, a trust deficit, limited transport connectivity, and onerous logistics, among many other factors.
 
read-more
Reflections on September evoke a host of memories.
 
read-more
  During the budget session of the legislative assembly, the Chief Minister informed the  House about state’s missing children. According to her, as many as 162 children have gone missing in the past three years.
 
read-more
The Communist Party of China (CPC) is expected to amend its constitution at the upcoming national congress.
 
read-more
Finally breaking her silence on the Rohingya exodus, Myanmar’s state counsellor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has said that her government would like to understand the root causes of the refugee crisis and investigate charges of human rights abuses.
 
read-more
The apprehension was justified. US President Donald Trump’s disregard for institutions and fondness for reckless rhetoric meant that his maiden appearance at the annual UN General Assembly was a closely watched affair.
 
read-more
It is a privilege to be invited to this most prestigious of law schools in the country, more so for someone not formally lettered in the discipline of law. I thank the Director and the faculty for this honour.
 
read-more
Column-image

Title: A Bonsai Tree; Author: Narendra Luther; Publisher: Niyogi Books; Pages: 227 Many books have been written on India's partition but here is a firsthand account of the horror by a migrant from what is now Pakistan, who ...

 
Column-image

As talk of war and violence -- all that Mahatma Gandhi stood against -- gains prominence across the world, a Gandhian scholar has urged that the teachings of the apostle of non-violence be taken to the classroom.

 
Column-image

Interview with Hudson Institute’s Aparna Pande, whose book From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy, was released on June 17.

 
Column-image

This is the continuing amazing spiritual journey of a Muslim man from Kerala who plunged into Vedic religion after a chance encounter with a Hindu mystic under a jackfruit tree in the backyard of his house when he was just nine. It is a story w...

 
Column-image

History is told by the victors but in our modern age, even contemporary events get - or are given - a slant, where some contributors soon get eclipsed from the narrative or their images tarnished.

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive