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Liquor vends spell doom on highways
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, October 28
When a sozzled Bant Singh of Khanpur village was hit by a scooter after coming out of a liquor vend at Ganda Kherri on the Rajpura-Patiala stretch of National Highway 64 last week, he became just another addition to a list of 20,000-odd people who are either injured or killed in road accidents in Punjab and Haryana every year.

As many as 2,202 persons lost their lives in road mishaps in Punjab during 2002-03. The death toll in the previous year was 2,664. The situation is no different in Haryana where more than 2,000 people die in road mishaps every year.

According to official estimates, 40 per cent of 4,200-odd people, who lost their lives on the national or state highways in the two states in 2002-03, were victims of alcohol.

The case of Mr Bant Singh, a middle-aged farmer, speaks volumes of the apathy of the state in taking any action against erring liquor vends who have been violating not only directions of the Apex Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court but also the excise policies of the two states.

Agreed Mr Bant Singh was not driving a vehicle, but he was hit by a speeding scooter. His case is symbolic of nearly 50 per cent of victims of road accidents who fall a prey to speeding vehicles while crossing national or state highways in an inebriated condition. Though most of these cases take place late in the evenings, this accident took place around noon and the vend from where Mr Bant Singh had taken liquor was barely 15 metres from the National Highway.

Mr Bant Singh, who had just received payment for his paddy crop, was probably lured by huge banners put up by the vendors, announcing major discounts. “A case of whisky of your choice for Rs 1100”, screamed one while other said: “Bottle for Rs 70”.

The excise policies specifically prohibit any advertising or publicity for liquor. But national and state Highways besides other important roads in two states are full of hoardings, banners and flags announcing major discounts in liquor prices.

Taking a serious view of the location of a large number of liquor vends on state and national highways throughout Punjab, the Punjab State Human Rights Commission (PSHRC) had in May this year issued directions to the Financial Commissioner, Taxation, to conduct an inquiry and submit a report. The issue was raised before the Commission by Mr Charanjit Singh Bakshi, a social activist, by referring to a news report published in The Tribune on April 29. The report was based on a field survey.

Mr Bakshi said a large number of liquor vends had come up along state and national highways in Punjab in grave violation of the directions issued by the Supreme Court and the High Court. In spite of the directions of the courts, no action had been taken.

The PSHRC, after considering the gravity of the situation, decided to register the complaint as a case, holding that it involved the violation of human rights. But subsequently, when some of the liquor vendors produced some documents before the Commission, claiming that location of vends on highways do not attract any direction of the courts, the Commission dismissed the case as withdrawn, even before the Punjab Excise and Taxation Department could file its report even after a month of the original deadline of August 21.

The directions of courts from time to time and the rising toll of fatalities on the roads notwithstanding, the Punjab and Haryana Excise Departments have instead of taking any remedial measure to check this serious violation threatening human life , have introduced severe competition, encouraging vendors to violate law in their endeavour to push up their sales.

During the last Budget session of Punjab, the House was informed that 2202 persons lost their lives in road accidents in the state during 2002-03. In 2001-02, the number was 2664.

Some years ago, the High Court and the Apex Court issued strict orders that no liquor vend would be allowed within 150 metres of any state or national highway. These directions followed public interest litigation filed on behalf of Dr P.N. Chhuttani, a former President of The Tribune Trust.

Though the Punjab Excise Department mentioned in its new policy that no liquor vend should be allowed within 150 to 300 metres of a school, a place of worship or even state and national highways, it left it to the discretion of its licensees to decide about the location of their vends.

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