The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Wednesday issued a notice on a Petition challenging the Punjab Excise (Amendment Bill), which allows the sale of liquor at hotels, clubs and restaurants, located within 500 metres of state and national highways. The Bill changes the definition of ‘sale’ of liquor, therefore exploiting a loophole to sidestep the Supreme Court ban. The notice was issued by a Bench comprising Justice Anita Chaudhry and Justice H.S. Madaan.
The petition, filed by the President of the Arrive Safe Society of Chandigarh, Mr. Harman Singh Sidhu, alleges that the impugned amendment to the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 has been brought with the intention to “dodge” the Supreme Court Highway liquor ban.
“The singular and acme intent and purpose behind the Hon’ble Supreme Court in issuing the directions afore, being to exterminate the bane of drunken driving from the Highways of this country and for such purpose, to asphyxiate the sources and availability of liquor from National and State Highways the ardous job was assigned to the Chief Secretaries and Director General of Police of respective States. However the State government instead of recognising the concern of the Supreme Court in trying to remedy the mischief through its judgment has shown a narrow pedantic approach just for the sake of revenue,” it contends.
The Petition further avers that the legislature cannot directly annul Court judgments, contending, “If the legislature were at liberty to annul judgments of courts, the ghost of bills of attainder will revisit us to enable legislatures to pass legislative judgments on matters which are inter- parties.”
It, therefore, challenges the Bill, contending that it is “a colourable exercise of power and only an attempt to hoodwink the ratio of the judgment” passed by the Supreme Court. It also demands an interim stay on the operation of the Bill, during the pendency of the Petition.
The Punjab Assembly had recently passed the Punjab Excise (Amendment) Bill, 2017, the Statement of objects and reasons of the which states, “In a recent judicial pronouncement, sale of liquor within 500 meters of State and National Highways has been prohibited… The absence of supply of liquor in hotels, restaurants, clubs etc. has seriously affected their existence and even their partial closure may create substantial unemployment in the State. The State of Punjab has, thus, decided to amend the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 to ensure that the hotels, restaurants, clubs and other notified places are allowed supply of alcohol only for consumption within their premises to secure livelihood of a large segment of State’s population. However, there shall be a restriction on opening of liquor vends on or within 500 meters of the highways.”
The Bill introduces two clauses – 18 (a) and 19 (a) – to differentiate between ‘sale’ and ‘supply’ of liquor. While the first clause defines sale of liquor as “transfer of consideration by a liquor vend for consumption by a purchaser at a place other than its premises”, clause 19 (a) defines supply of liquor as “provision of liquor for consideration at clubs, restaurants, hotels and other places on the basis of licences issued on the condition that it shall be consumed within their premises”.
The Bill, therefore, permits catering establishments to provide liquor to customers as long as it is consumed on their premises. The legislation adds that licensed hotels, clubs and restaurants will be entitled to continue supplying liquor even if they are located on state and national highways – notwithstanding any judgment or decree passed by a Court or Tribunal in that regard.
The Supreme Court had, in the case of State of Tamil Nadu Rep. By Its Secretary Home, Prohibition & Excise Dept & Ors v. K. Balu, banned the sale of liquor within 500 metres of State and National Highways, including at bars, hotels and restaurants that serve alcohol. The judgment had justified its stand through the alarming statistics on the occurrence of road accidents. The order was subsequently modified on March 31, to provide the following reliefs:
You may read: SC Order on Highway Liquor Shops Faces Barrage of Criticism by LiveLaw Research Team
Read the Petition Here