'None for the road' order hits Goa's highway bars

Panaji, June 5 (IANS) For thousands of bar owners and liquor vendors in Goa, a directive from the union road transport and highways ministry to shut down operations along national highways has rung alarm bells.

In a bid to curb road accidents and resulting fatalities, ministry secretary Vijay Chhibber has asked the Goa government to close down bars set up along the three national highways which pass through the state.

"Since prevention is always better than cure, it is requested to issue instructions to remove liquor shops along National Highways and ensure that no licence is issued to liquor vendors along national highways," Chhibber said.

Goa, known for cheap and easily available liquor, has nearly 7,000 bars and liquor vends, a fourth of which are along the national highways that traverse through the state.

While cosy taverns and small bars dot the countryside and service local residents and alcohol aficionados with their regular nips of feni and other liquor, highway bars and liquor outlets cater to tourists and truckers.

Interestingly, alcohol in Goa is far cheaper than in the rest of the country. And it's a rare day which passes without a stray inebriated tourist or local crashing his four-wheeler or motorcycle into a pedestrian on the highways.

Goa reported 4,500 road accidents in 2012, 300 of them fatal. But there are no separate figures for how many accidents occurred on highways and peripheral roads or were caused by drunken driving.

Chhibber claimed that strict implementation of Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act could help arrest the escalating death rate on India's highways.

In 2011 alone, 142,000 people were killed in road accidents across India, while nearly half a million received injuries, Chibber said, adding that 24,655 accidents were due to drunken driving.

Anant Naik is one of the 1,560 bar licensees in north Goa's Bardez sub-district, which tops the list of alcohol licences in the state. His bar located along National Highway 17 and is high up in the list for stringent action suggested by the ministry.

"I have been running this bar for 25 years. I have a clientele that has been established over the years. I am 55 years old, it will be difficult for me to relocate," Naik told IANS.

An official at the state excise department said that while the ministry directive is in the right "spirit", it may be realistically difficult to enforce.

"Liquor shops and bars in Goa have been around for decades. They are an established lobby and getting them to relocate may not be easy. Unless we get explicit instructions, we may not crack down hard," an official said.

Incidentally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government in the state stopped issuing fresh liquor licences in Goa earlier this year. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has said that the status quo would continue until the government comes up with proper guidelines for issuing licences.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in )

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