Don’t punish the liquor shops, please.

Would it be logical to punish all chocolate companies if two school kids get into a brawl over a chocolate and one kid knocks off the teeth of the other? NO, right? Exactly, in this sense, India’s Apex Court has developed a similar logic to display its latest attitude of judicial dictatorship. A day after the Supreme Court (SC) ordered a ban on sale of liquor within 500 meters of highways, a large number of liquor outlets remained closed across the country.

It also prohibits the luxury hotels within 500 metres of a highway from serving liquor in restaurants, banquet halls or even to guests in their rooms. This means that 10 lakh people, in this sector, are likely to lose their jobs and wages, followed by the revenue losses of the regional states. This wrath could lead to states losing an overall tax revenue of around 50,000 crore rupees.

By the way, what are the provisions for the compensation to all people affected by this ruling? Article 39 of India’s constitution urges the State to ensure that “the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means to livelihood.” If there is not any relief for the liquor shops then the SC is contradicting itself and should be held accountable for playing with the sentiments of conscience of many people.

It would be unfair to stringently punish the legal business of these liquor shops, not the drunk drivers, in this whole paternalistic drama. Instead of taking extra measures to tighten the vigilance and have stricter norms, this judgement just makes the government lazy by passing the buck to the liquor shops.

Nor does this ruling guarantee that the drivers will not be drinking anymore, because how hard is it to sneak in 2–3 bottles of booze in your vehicle? What could have worked better are better DUI (driving under influence)laws which call for license suspension. Because probably one way to end accidents caused due to alcohol is to end driving and not drinking. Such a penalty would incentivise people to not drink and drive. For instance, a truck driver would dare not drink before/while driving, because losing his license will mean losing his livelihood for him. That’s why it is essential to hold the drivers responsible.

The most baffling thing however in the judgement is that in 2015 out of the total number of accidents, just 3–4% of the accidents were caused due to alcohol and drugs intake. During the year 2015, overloaded vehicles caused 77,116 accidents and 25,199 road accidental deaths. It constituted a share of 15.4 per cent and 17.2 per cent respectively in total road accidents and fatalities in the country. [Government of India, Ministry of road transport and highways transport, Research Wing].

So why hasn’t the government passed a judgement that focuses on tackling the issue of overloaded vehicles, since it has caused more accidents than alcohol induced ones?

This decision would also affect ‘tourism sector’ in some way. So you see, the actual problem is not the liquor shops near highway, but poor transmission and trickling down of rule of law. How then can our hon’ble [unelected] judges of SC exercise political powers similar to legislation?

The bigger picture which remains undiscussed in our ‘public sphere’ is the qualitative scope of ‘economic freedom’ in India. Economic freedom is the salient part of liberty, which means that it is the ability and capacity of members of a society to undertake economic activities. Unfortunately, according to the ‘Index of Economic Freedom Report (2017)’, India ranks 143 out of 186 countries. Unless there’s no freedom in our market or our economy, freedom to produce, trade and consume any goods and services would stand to be willfully acquired with the use of force, fraud or theft. Therefore, it is “anticipated by default” that India’s Apex Court should act within the constitutional limits of judiciary. SC should defend the economic liberty of the citizens of India, not meddle with it. In this matter, its outreach beyond the court premises is contradictory to the constitutional principles of our democracy. It should, in fact, raise the penalty on drunk drivers, followed by a strong rule of law and legal enforcement, if it really intends to fight the case of drinking-and-driving, or else there are no proper incentives to address the matter in a sincere way.

Kumar Anand, Jaimine Vaishnav and Kiran Dave, Free A Billion

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