Read Editorial with D2G – Ep (312)

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Read Editorial – SC order on liquor ban: None for the road

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MEANINGS are given in BOLD

The liquor trade, as the Supreme Court has emphasised (give special importance or value to (something) in speaking or writing), is indeed res extra commercium (a thing outside commerce), something outside the idea of commerce. It exists solely (not involving anyone or anything else; only) at the discretion (the freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation) of policymakers without any concomitant (naturally accompanying or associated) fundamental right that other businesses enjoy. The point was cited (praise (someone, typically a member of the armed forces) in an official report for a courageous act) by the court while ordering that liquor sales be prohibited within 500 metres from national and State highways.

In a different sense, it only underscores how much the executive is, and ought to be, involved in policy-making on the subject. Imposing restrictions on the location of liquor outlets, applying them in a differential manner to vends (sell (something)), hotels and standalone bars is undoubtedly an executive decision. It is possible to argue that the executive will be lax (not sufficiently strict, severe, or careful; relaxed) in enforcement, corrupt in licensing or too revenue-centric to worry about the social costs of its decisions. However, is that reason enough for the judiciary to impose norms without regard to the problems that they may give rise to? Frankly, the answer is no.

The court’s ill-considered order is wholly (entirely; fully)  concerned with the availability of liquor — to the point that it bans sale of liquor on highway stretches even within city and town limits, where police checks are quite common — and does not touch upon strengthening the enforcement of the law against drunk driving. With the same moral outrage (an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation) against high fatalities (an occurrence of death by accident, in war, or from disease) on our roads, and with much less economic cost, the court could have ordered stricter patrolling (guard) on highways and regular check-points.

The order has come down like a sledgehammer (a large, heavy hammer used for such jobs as breaking rocks and driving in fence posts)  not only on the liquor vends and the hospitality sector but also on the revenues of State governments, on the business of hotels and bars, and the tourism potential of many parts of the country. The inventive (showing creativity or original thought) responses of State governments and the industry give an idea of how much they are affected by it — and indeed how absurd (wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate) the court’s order is. States are downgrading ( reduce to a lower grade, rank, or level of importance) highways into ‘urban roads’ or ‘major district roads’, moves fraught (causing or affected by anxiety or stress) with consequences as safety and quality norms may be compromised; local bodies, which now have to maintain them, may not find the required resources.

Some luxury hotels situated on highways are creating alternative entrances to claim that their bars are located beyond 500 metres. An enterprising (having or showing initiative and resourcefulness) owner has built a maze (be dazed and confused) of sorts to create a longer walking distance from a highway to his bar. It is not clear how the 500-metre distance is to be measured — as a straight line from the highway in any direction or along the paths leading to an outlet. One may denounce (inform against) or laugh away these moves to circumvent (find a way around (an obstacle)) the order; but they can be also seen as desperate responses from those fearing loss of income, jobs and business. The court should have the wisdom and the humility to examine the consequences of its order and do the necessary thing — amend (modify; change) it.


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