Monday , 22 April 2019

Down in spirit

The sparkle is likely to be diffused in Goa’s retail liquor trade with a recent Supreme Court order awaiting compliance, reports Shoma Patnaik

Goa’s retail liquor trade is in lather. After years of rewarding existence the industry profit graph is set to turn unsteady.

Recently the Supreme Court (SC) passed an order banning sale of liquor along national and state highways. The order is to crack down on the menace of drunken driving and to reduce the number of road accidents. It says that, “no new liquor vends shall come up along the highways while those already having licenses will have to shut shop by April 1, 2017.”

It is a good judgment to bring down the burgeoning number of road accidents caused by drivers imbibing alcohol from wayside shacks. But for small-sized Goa where highways cut across cities and neighborhoods, the SC judgment is a radical one. Every locality has a wine shop selling IMFL around the corner and every fourth shop in the state is a bar-cum-restaurant. Alcoholic drinks are easily consumed in Goa, albeit more by tourists than locals. Traditional taverns and road-side bars are an intrinsic part of the landscape and without them the state would not be the same.

The judgment is a setback for Edward D’Souza who along with his three brothers runs the D’Souza Bar and Restaurant, Vasco. “Our business is ancestral and it supports my joint-family of 12 members,” he says. It provides employment to four people and is the only source of our income, points out D’Souza.  “The SC order is a big blow and one that I am dreading,” he reveals.

Several liquor shops owners have multiple licenses. They are well-off as the liquor selling is profitable. Players who are likely to take the brunt are new entrants and the single store owner. A Margao based retailer points out that even established players will be affected if they have to shift their premises.

The SC order is an impactful one. Many popular joints, department stores, malls, etc. are heading for closure. Between localities it is tough to decide which are going to be hit the most. The jurisdiction of Margao municipality alone has 400 outlets selling alcoholic drinks comprising 213 bars, 151 shops and 36 wholesalers. About 95 per cent of them face closure as per the SC order. Vasco also looks like it is going to be badly impacted with the NH-17 cutting across the city. While in Ponda, 670 out of 803 outlets face the threat of shutdown.

Meanwhile the number of outlets affected by the SC order is yet to be ascertained by the government.  Although, initial estimates from the excise department indicates that 2,000 out of 11,000 retailers will be directly hit. Bars and restaurants are expected to be the worst affected vis-à-vis shops because they constitute the chunk of the 11,000 in the alcohol vending business.

The excise department is launched a survey to ascertain the exact number of affected retailers. Taluka level teams have been set up to identify outlets that need to be closed. The mamlatdar, officials from PWD, land survey department, excise and panchayat secretaries are a part of the taluka level teams. They have already commenced the work on identification in certain talukas.

The liquor industry is also pulled up its socks and got down to work. Goa Liquor Traders Association (GLTA), president, Dattaprasad Naik, said that the association is commenced the exercise to find out the shops that will close down. GLTA will present a proper picture in a weeks time, he said..

“GLTA is looking to the government to resolve the issue, said Naik. As interim measure the association is asking for renaming of state highways as district highways. “The impact of the SC order on Goan economy is going to be huge on the local economy,” according to Naik, who estimates that four lakh Goans are directly or indirectly involved in selling liquor. “All retailers need to band together with bar and restaurant owners to tackle the issue, he says.

A small state, Goa has a huge number of road accidents. On an average 25 lives are lost per month in road accidents.  The SC has said that revenue generation could not be a valid reason to defend the rampant liquor consumption on highways.  State government’s that have petitioned the SC asking for a relaxation of the order have been censured as according to the SC there are way too many liquor shops along the highways. Along with closure of shops the SC also wants states to bring down the hoardings as they distract drivers.


SC order not a bolt from the blue

The SC order is not a bolt from the blue but culmination of PILs filed by social organizations and outfits such as Arrive Safe Society. Since 2011 the ministry of Road Transport & Highways is been issuing advisories to state chief secretaries for removal of liquor shops along national highways. However not much was done about it and new licenses were issued with impunity. A PIL was filed in the Madras High Court in 2012 seeking removal of liquor shops and asking existing shops to relocate. Similarly another PIL was filed in the Punjab & Haryana High Court not to issue licenses to shops which were highly visible. Judgments to these PIL came in 2014 after which the SC came out with a verdict on the issue.

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