On 15th December 2016, the Supreme Court delivered an historic judgment directing all State Governments and Union Territories to remove all liquor shops from National and State Highways, before 31st March 2017. The Supreme Court also directed that there should not be any liquor shop within a distance of 500 metres from the edge of the road.
The judges pointed out that based on several earlier judgments, nobody can claim trading in liquor as a fundamental right under Article 19(1)g. As fallout of this judgment, with effect from 1st April 2017, even hotels and restaurants on the National and State Highways across the country are not permitted to run bars. All the licences will expire on 31st March 2017. No fresh licenses can be granted.
While all the national and regional media carried this news as a headline, unfortunately, no media mentioned the name of the person who struggled to get this judgment.
K. Balu (46), a Chennai-based advocate and the President of the Advocate Forum for Social Justice, has been fighting against the liquor menace right from his student days. In 2004, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) issued a direction to all State Governments and Union Territories (UT) to remove all liquor shops from the National Highways and to stop issuing licences to open new liquor shops on the Highways. In spite of repeated reminders, the State Governments had not bothered to remove the liquor shops from the National Highways.
As per records, around 1.5 lakh (150,000) accidents happen on the National Highways and more than 45,000 people die every year on the highways. Nearly half of the accidents and deaths happen due to drunken driving. That was why MoRTH was particular about removal of liquor shops on the Highways.
In 2012, K. Balu filed a petition with the Tamil Nadu Government quoting the above circular and requesting them to remove all the liquor shops on the National Highways. Since there was no response from the State Government, he filed a PIL in the Madras High Court. In January 2013, the Madras High Court ordered the State Government to remove all the liquor shops from the National and State Highways. Although the MoRTH circular did not specify State Highways, the Madras High Court included State Highways to avoid accidents due to liquor consumption, on those roads too. The review petition filed by the State Government to remove State Highways from the Judgment was rejected by the High Court.
In February, 2013, the Tamil Nadu Government went on an appeal with the Supreme Court to remove State Highways from the High Court order. Instead, the Supreme Court immediately ordered the State Government to remove the liquor shops from the National Highways before 14th August 2013. Accordingly the State Government removed 504 liquor shops from the National Highways of Tamil Nadu.
After hearing the arguments of various State Governments and liquor dealers, on 15th December 2016, the Supreme Court directed the removal of all liquor shops from both National and State Highways before the end of March 2017.
Balu has so far filed more than 50 Public Interest Litigations (PILs) on various public issues affecting the common people. He is also the Editor of a monthly Tamil magazine, 'Satta Pathukappu' (Legal protection), to create legal awareness among the common people. Through another PIL in Madras High Court, Balu obtained the judgment directing the State Government to constitute a High Power Committee to reduce the liquor consumption in the State. The Committee has been constituted and their recommendations are awaited.
"I am extremely happy that these judgments will reduce road accidents to a great extent. I will continue to fight against liquor menace till total prohibition is introduced in the State. This is only the beginning of a long journey", says beaming Balu to PreSense.
PreSense congratulates K. Balu for his sustained and silent crusade against social evils.
Balu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through mobile/whatsApp 9444088866.
By K. Srinivasan, Editor in Chief