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NOT SO SOBER

Rejoice! India’s highway booze ban won’t hit watering holes within city limits

By Suneera Tandon

There’s good news for India’s tipplers and the country’s liquor business.

The supreme court (SC) of India has clarified that its December 2016 order banning sale and serving of alcoholic drinks within 500 metres of India’s national highways was not applicable to those segments of the roads that are within municipal areas. So shops, bars, and restaurants located on highways but falling within city limits can resume selling alcohol, The Economic Times newspaper reported on Aug. 24. They must, however, renew their licences over the next two-three weeks, industry experts said.

The clarification, uploaded on the SC’s website on Aug. 23, states, “The purpose of the directions contained in the order dated Dec. 15, 2016, is to deal with the sale of liquor along and in the proximity of highways (as) properly understood, which provide connectivity between cities, towns and villages.” It further says, “The order, does not prohibit licensed establishments within municipal areas. This clarification shall govern other municipal areas as well.”

It, thus, distinguishes between shops and bars located on major highways that connect cities and those located within cities.

Interestingly, according to the Business Standard newspaper, the clarification itself is dated July 11, though it was put up on the website only on Aug 23.

The ban

The SC’s December 2016 ban came into effect on April 01 this year and was prompted by the high number of deaths caused due to drunken driving. While it referred to liquor stores then, the court clarified on March 31, 2017, that hotels and restaurants, too, fall under the ban’s purview.

Overnight bars in urban centres like the Delhi-National Capital Region, Bengaluru, and Mumbai were either shuttered or lost business considerably. According to a report by brokerage firm CLSA, the move potentially impacted a third of all the outlets selling alcohol in the country, leading to a loss of Rs20,000 crore ($3 billion) in revenue to states. All liquor majors reported a drop in sales for the June quarter.

Now, according to Riyaaz Amlani, who heads the National Restaurant Association of India, 85% of the bars and restaurants that were shut due to the ban will resume business.