What happens when a state highway is renamed as a district highway? Well, liquor will continue to flow free.
With the Supreme Court (SC) ordering the closure of liquor shops and bars within 500 metres of national and state highways, the Maharashtra government is planning to de-notify state highways and declare them district highways.
According to state excise officials, the apex court order willresult in the closure of almost 13,000 liquor shops and bars from April 1. “If they are closed, the government will lose Rs 5,000 crore annually. Therefore, we are planning to de-notify state highways which pass through cities and villages. This move will protect nearly 8,000 shops,” a senior official said.
“Madhya Pradesh has already classified state highways as district highways. We want to do the same. Once we de-notify highways, state highways would become district roads. However, the particular area authority, such as the municipal corporation, has to take the responsibility for maintaining those roads,” another official said.
The state has the power to de-notify state highways but it cannot do anything with national highways, he said. “The central government has to issue the notification for national highways. Even if they do it, it won’t be of much help as it would only convert national highways to state highways. Since the court order refers to state highways, it won’t serve our purpose. If the state de-notifies highways, it has to be upheld by the concerned corporations,” he added.
After the SC judgment, opposition parties in the Akola Municipal Corporation tabled a resolution de-notifying a state highway. “But the treasury benches opposed it and the proposal was finally turned down. Only if the state, Centre and the local authority are on the same page will we be able to implement the move. The Finance Department is worried about losing a big chunk of the revenue. Therefore, they are persuading the excise department,” he added.
Excise Minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule was not available for comments. “Revenue is a major worry but the de-notifying decision would invite public anger. The BJP, on the one hand, made Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar’s district, Chandrapur, liquor-free. On the other hand, it wants to protect liquor shops and bars in cities. This double standard will not be right for the party in the long run,” said a senior BJP leader.