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10 Apr 2017

Crusader targets states' booze ruse

ANIRBAN CHOWDHURY, TT, Alipurduar, April 9: One of the petitioners behind the highway bar ban has said he would draw the Supreme Court's attention to the notifications issued by various governments, including that in Bengal, to get around the restrictions with the stroke of a pen.
"It is unfortunate that it started in Chandigarh, my home town. The government here constituted a committee and converted all the state highways into major district roads. Other states immediately picked up and followed this 'brilliant' idea. The case will be heard at the Chief Justice's court on April 13. On that day, we will submit a list of other states that have downgraded the roads to save liquor business," Harman Singh Sidhu told this newspaper on phone and through an email.
The Chandigarh resident was one of the petitioners whose plea prompted the Supreme Court to ban the sale of liquor within 500 metres from state and national highways.
Several state governments had responded by denotifying stretches of state highways to ensure that liquor shops and bars escape the ban.
Sidhu said he has already filed a petition at the Supreme Court against the Chandigarh decision to change the status of highways.
"It is very unfortunate that the West Bengal government has also downgraded some state highways like some other states. This shows how much we respect and honour the order of the apex court of our country. Instead of complying with it, the states are busy outdoing each other in downgrading state highways to district roads. Suddenly, the states are giving preference to liquor sale instead of development. It totally defies logic. This also shows how we value human lives," he said.
As the head of ArriveSAFE, an NGO working on road safety, Sidhu has been waging for years the battle against alcohol sale along highways.
Ratul Biswas, the secretary of Manobik Mukh, an NGO based in Alipurduar, said he had alerted Sidhu. "I informed him of the notification and he was surprised to know it. He asked for a copy of the notification and I have already sent it to him. We are in touch with him and also trying to get other NGOs and people from different walks of life on board to make a joint move against the state's decision," Biswas said.
Sidhu said he was collecting the notifications issued by different states, which would be submitted before the apex court on April 13.
In Bengal, the state government had changed the status of 277.30 km of state highways into arterial roads. The PWD order dated March 16, a fortnight before the Supreme Court refused to substantially change the ban announced in December, can save 300 to 400 liquor vends located beside the highways across the state, official sources had said.
Sidhu pointed out that governments usually strive to upgrade the status of roads but the opposite had happened here.
"Instead of complying the Supreme Court's order, some state governments have downgraded the state highways simply to get around the order, which is very unfortunate. For once, all political parties seem to be on the same page... working hard to defeat the spirit of the order," he said.

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