Highway liquor ban: The man behind it and the story of his long drive

Posted On April 2, 2017 By In People, Special Stories, Top Stories

Driving post drinking, especially on mountain roads, was always a road to a new high.The moment I would twist my motorcycle’s accelerator on serpentine paths, a smile would cross my lips. Perhaps to congratulate myself on how I could stretch the bike to its limits. Even if I crashed on the risky and difficult terrain, I would escape unhurt or with minor injuries. But on October 24, 1996, luck ran out on me. That’s when I was not driving.

I was in the back seat of a car. My three friends and I were in the “reserved area for wild” near Renuka Lake in Himachal Pradesh. The person on the driver’s seat, at one of the turns, swerved the car hard to avoid an eroded patch of the road. He lost control and the vehicle dangled on the edge of the cliff, finally settling back on its wheel. No, he had not had a drink.

The dust settled. I remember my four friends shouting and urging me to come out. I tried, but just could not move. Then, there was a black-out.

Post a two-year rehab stint, and the realisation that I would remain confined to a wheelchair for life, is how “ArriveSAFE” started in 2005. Frankly, I wanted to do something so that others could arrive home safe…

Most of us are unaware of the fact that India accounts for just 1 per cent of the world’s vehicular population but has 10 per cent of all fatalities, the highest in the world. As per a 2016 report by the ministry of road transport and highways, 400 die in road mishaps on Indian roads.

These figures were highlighted in every meeting I attended in swanky conference halls in nearly 10 countries, including US, Russia, Turkey, Belgium, Canada, Germany and Turkey since 2007.

As per the Global Road Safety Partnership and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, driving under the influence of alcohol, finally, is responsible for 30 to 50 per cent of road deaths.

I started filing RTIs in April 2012 and studying the excise policies (that govern the sale of alcohol) of Punjab and Haryana. Startling information came from the NHAI – “185 liquor vends on 291 km on NH1”. This meant one vend every 1.5 kilometre and if you are driving at 90 km/hr, one would come across a liquor vend every minute.

The Road Safety Council of India and ministry of road, transport and highways had been sending “advisories” to state governments in 2004, 2007, 2011 and 2013 not to grant permits for liquor vends on highways. The states completely ignored them. Armed with this information, I filed a PIL in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in December 2012. Within days, “lucrative offers” followed by threats started coming. Well, the threats certainly strengthened my resolve to carry on with the fight.

On March 18, 2014, the bench headed by the Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered that liquor vends should neither be visible nor accessible from the highways (both state and national) and their service lanes. Within a week, both Punjab and Haryana moved the Supreme Court seeking “relief” that they may be allowed to operate on state highways.

The states flouted the order in every possible way; the sale window was turned to the other side of the highway and vends camouflaged but they operated from the same locations. The advertisements changed to “theke da daftar”.

The final order of the high court resulted in ArriveSAFE’s litigation expedition. As many as 12 more cases from were filed during 2014-2016 in the Supreme Court and high courts. The bench headed by the CJI laid the matter to rest on December 15, 2016, in a historic order.

The battle is not over yet; the next challenge is to ensure compliance. As per our experience, the liquor traders in connivance with state officials would do everything possible to stay close to the highways.

Our next project is to make roads safer. We are seeking fixing accountability of officials concerned of the PWD (B&R) and NHAI in order to ensure that roads and bridges are constructed as per their own guidelines and provide safe travelling to commuters. In case of any mishap, victims should be compensated from the salaries of erring officials.(dailyo.in)



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