Innovation Or Desperation?
Rs 50,000 crore estimated loss in tax revenue by States due to the SC order
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Going by popular perception, it takes several weeks/months or even years, sometimes, to complete the construction of a national or a state highway. But it took just a few days (and perhaps fewer hours) for several State governments to de-notify a large portion of their state highway network and convert them into a local, municipal or a district road. Why? To escape any potential revenue loss connected with the recent order from the apex court that banned the sale of liquor through liquor vends located on and within a 500-meter radius from national and state highways. The Supreme Court order in this regard was issued on 15 December last year, but came into execution from 1 April. As a result of the SC order, business came to a standstill for hundreds of bars, pubs, five-star hotels and liquor stores that are normally located on either side of state and national highways.
In states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh, among others, hundreds of kilometres of state highways have already been de-notified. They are now city roads. Is this the solution to counter the SC order? According to reports, the excise department in Madhya Pradesh has reportedly created a three-wheeler-based mobile liquor outlet to sell country-made liquor. Of course, it is staying far away from the roads that are still part of the state highway network. In Kerala, one restaurant-cum-bar owner has built a maze-like path measuring around 300 metres as his shop is situated on National Highway number 17.
Closer to the national capital, reports suggest that the entrance of Gurgaon-based DLF Cyber Hub housing over 30 restaurants and pubs has been shifted some 2 km away from the highway. It houses popular joints like The Wine Company, The Beer Café, Soi7, Hard Rock Café, and several others that offer liquor as part of their house-menu. On 2 April, there was a 25 per cent fall in footfalls reported in Cyber Hub. “While the tenant partners are honouring the judgment by the Supreme Court, we remain concerned about the situation,” DLF said in a statement. The SC order, which aimed at curbing accidents due to drunken driving, seems to have created a host of challenges for the state governments. States may lose tax revenue estimated at around Rs 50,000 crore annually, according to the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI). “The restaurants and pubs will take a hit of Rs 10,000-15,000 crore and nearly 100,000 people could go out of work,” NRAI president Riyaaz Amlani said in a statement. How will the central government respond? Is de-notifying highways the only solution? Isn’t it high time to have a joint policy on the consumption of liquor that can be applicable across India rather than from one state to another?