While passing an interim order in a motor accident compensation case, Madras High Court said that, if Governments cannot bring about total prohibition on sale of liquor, they should at least restrict it. High Court also questioned how a Government could run the liquor business when the Constitution advocated total prohibition. Article 47 of the Constitution says the government should endeavour to achieve total prohibition in the country, and Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 prohibits drunken driving.
Blaming alcoholism for road deaths and many social evils, the Madras High Court asked whether money from liquor outweighed the duty of the State to ensure public safety and health. Court observed that, since there is a direct connection between liquor and deaths in road accidents, matrimonial disharmony and personal relationships, governments should come forward at least to cap liquor vending hours to eight hours from 12 hours a day.
Court further pointed out that, “Even drinking water is scarce in most parts of our country, but alcohol flows aplenty in every nook and corner of the nation. Liquor is poison to society. Many families are drowned. Liquor is the basic reason for many social evils. In spite of that, governments are opening as many liquor shops/bars as possible with the sole aim of getting revenue”.
Noting that women and children were adversely affected by alcoholism, the Court said that, alcohol hit them physically as well as economically. Court further said that, juveniles were also increasingly becoming addicts, and said the ‘dangerous problem’ should be fought jointly by policy makers, bureaucrats, NGOs, political parties and people.
Court was also of the view that full details of road accidents, including those caused by drunk driving, are not available because such cases are either not correctly filed or under-reported or unreported.
Court then suo motu impleaded the Union Cabinet Secretary, besides Tamil Nadu’s Revenue Secretary, Managing Director of the state-owned liquor retailer in TN, i.e., TASMAC and Director General of Police, and asked them to file their replies by December 11. They shall also answer a set of 16 queries, which included: Whether states could open liquor shops and bars encouraging drunken driving, and whether in the opinion of the government, the money derived from liquor shops outweighs the right to protection of life enshrined in the Constitution?
Court also asked as to why the government could not find an alternative source of revenue and why the Centre not make drunken driving a non-bailable offence.