Test on sincerity of enforcing agents
THE Supreme Court ordering closure of liquor shops along national and state highways followed by the Lok Sabha passing the draft legislation to amend the Motor Vehicles Act merit appreciation by all selfless and right thinking citizens as both are aimed at checking loss of precious lives. Though the two recent developments are commendable their effectiveness will be dependent on measures undertaken at the ground level and sincerity of the enforcement agencies. While enforcing the proposed stringent traffic norms would be comparatively convenient for police and traffic personnel, it is the ban against liquor shops along the highways that could create problems as is already evident from reports about some states, which are popular tourist destinations, like Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, West Bengal and others either renaming or seeking de-notification to turn the state and national highways into local, municipal, arterial or district roads, few days after the Supreme Court ordered banning sale of liquor along the highways. It is learnt that some of these states have not specified any reason for changing the categories and some have even denied that such steps were been taken in view of the verdict of the apex court. To escape the court’s wrath, some even came up with the excuse that re-categorising the highways is to do away with the procedural hurdles and highway specifications which come in the way of maintaining and widening the roads. However, there is strong suspicion that such steps are just a ‘pretext’ for helping liquor trade, which has been a major source of revenue of the states, where production and sale of liquor are permitted.
Driving under the influence of alcohol as well as defying traffic rules are said to account for nearly five lakh road accidents and two lakh deaths in India and as such the ban on sale of liquor and the legislation proposed for strict compliance to driving norms are expected to check loss of lives. In the context of Manipur, the only task that the law enforcement agencies might face in executing the Supreme Court decree would be sealing the locally-brewed liquor sale and drinking joints dotting almost every part of the state and along the two national highways even though Manipur is already a dry state, at-least in the official record. On account of brewing and consumption of liquor or alcoholic beverages associated with customary practices of some scheduled tribe and scheduled caste communities since time immemorial, move to shut down the brewing places is likely to spark protest from the communities concerned. Thus, following the Supreme Court order might be limited to the option of evicting the drinking joints located close to the highways as the government could justify the crackdown on the ground that the customary practices do not entail commercialisation of the locally produced liquor. In the case of the proposed Motor Vehicles Act, which has provisions for imposing hefty monetary penalties against the violators, effective implementation of the guidelines will be decided by whether or not the enforcing agencies and the licence issuing authority act diligently.