Ban on alcohol sales threatens livelihood of thousands in Goa

Vendors are seeking to relax a nationwide ban on roadside liquor sales in their state
Ban on alcohol sales threatens livelihood of thousands in Goa

A bar in Goa, one of many that dot the roads in the state. An order by India's Supreme Court to shut down liquor shops within 500 meters of national and state highways will come to effect March 31, leaving to many bars closed. (Photo by Bosco Eremita) 

India's Supreme Court will close liquor shops within 500 meters of national and state highways across the country in an order effective from March 31 but Goan activists said it will make thousands jobless.

The order passed in December threatens 80 percent of liquor business in Goa as three national highways and eight state highways pass through the tiny state in western India. The order would kill thousands of small businesses, said Gaurish Dhond, President of Goa Hotel and Restaurant Association.

Dhond said that the move would directly affect 8,000 families in Goa alone. The ban will affect some 11,000 people who license to sell alcohol in Goa, who together run 3,127 liquor outlets in some 2,775 premises across the state.

The court order wanted authorities to remove all liquor vendors and liquor advertisements from all national and state highways across the country. "Roads should be absolutely free from any distraction or attractions. Visibility is the first temptation" to consume alcohol, the court said.

The step was necessary for the safety of travelers who get tempted to down a few drinks. The court also expressed concern over 150,000 road accident deaths every year, the majority attributed to drunk driving. 

However, the newly formed Goa Highway Affected Liquor Vendors Association claims the highways in Goa were built after the liquor traders set up their stores and therefore have decided to file a review petition, seeking a relaxation on the ban.

Restaurateurs were worried the move would also kill tourism, a prominent revenue-earner for the state that offers jobs to thousands. Linda De Souza, owner of a bar and and restaurant, said the move would harm her business. "Without serving alcohol my restaurant cannot survive only on food. Tourism and my business will be badly hit," she said.

Unlike other states, Goa has a different social fabric, where drinks are not consumed in pints and empty bottles flung by the roadsides. People visit age-old taverns for a quick drink at the end of their work and to socialize, said Michael de Sa, a local wine connoisseur.

Gabriel D'Souza, 73, who owns a 50-year-old wine shop started by his late father, said that for the last 58 years "we never faced such a scare of closing down. I don't know what to do at this age. How will I provide for my family?"

Another dealer Isidore Fernandes, 67, who also runs a family business began in 1945 said the court order is confusing. He said authorities are unclear whether the ban includes restaurants and bars or only liquor shops.

Father Savio Fernandes, who heads Goa and Daman archdiocesan Center for Social Justice and Action while agreeing that incidents of driving under the influence of alcohol leads to increasing road accidents and even death, questioned the logic of imposing a blanket ban on retail outlets.

"Will stopping the sale of alcohol on highways stop people from drinking and driving? If the answer is positive, then the apex court has not adequately explained its learned decision. At least, I personally am not convinced the order will curb this menace," he said.

Moreover, how can the onus of curbing road accidents be that of bars and liquor stores alone? he said while questioning the responsibility of law enforcing agencies as well as the drivers toward road safety.

Government statistics show that Indian roads account for the highest fatalities in the world with about 400 people killed every day. This number from 2015 was nearly a 5 percent increase from the previous year. 

India's Supreme Court had appointed a panel on road safety and written to state governments to curb road accidents.

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