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India top court bans all liquor shops along highways

NEW DELHI: India’s top court Thursday ordered the shutdown of all liquor shops along state and national highways, in a bid to reduce drunk driving in a country where road accidents kill 17 people every hour.

The Supreme Court directed authorities to stop granting licenses to highway liquor shops with immediate effect and said all existing registrations would be cancelled by March 31, 2017, setting a deadline of April 1 for their closure.

“(There should be) no liquor vends on national and state highways,” Chief Justice T.S. Thakur said.

Thakur also ordered the removal of all liquor banners and advertisements from such routes and said any shops selling alcohol must be located at least 500 metres (1,640 feet) away from highways.

Nearly 150,000 people were killed in Indian road accidents in 2015 — a figure that amounts to around 400 a day and 17 every hour — according to the ministry of road transport and highways.

Of those, nearly 5 percent — 6,755 deaths — was due to cases where the driver was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Harman Singh Sidhu of Arrive Safe NGO, a petitioner in the case, said liquor shops could be found every 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles) along Indian highways, calling them “a great temptation for road users and a distraction”.

While many cheered the court decision, liquor vendors said it would threaten their business.

“It’s a landmark judgement as far as accident cases are concerned, they might reduce. But shop owners are in difficulty now,” V. Balaji, a lawyer for the Liquor Traders Association, told NDTV news network.

Thursday’s judgement is also likely to leave a big hole in state coffers which reportedly rake in billions of rupees in alcohol taxes and fees.



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