Liquor mafia threatened to kill me, reveals man who fought legal battle to shut vends on highways

The Supreme Court disposed off Harman Sidhu's petition and gave a historic verdict last month banning liquor vends, pubs and bars within 500 meters radius of highways in the country.

A man has alleged that he received death threats from the liquor mafia and that the Rajasthan government cancelled his consultancy after he filed a PIL against liquor vends that were functioning on the highways in the state.

The Supreme Court disposed off Harman Sidhu's petition and gave a historic verdict last month banning liquor vends, pubs and bars within 500 meters radius of highways in the country.

Sidhu, whose NGO ArriveSafe fought for five long years to ensure liquor vends on the highways are shut, spoke exclusively to India Today.

Q: It was a long legal battle..but the verdict is historic...worth the wait?

A: Finally when we see the result..if you look right next to you..there used to be a liquor shop..on the NH1 ..and on the left there was a country liquor shop..both have closed down.

Q: The state Govt's patronized liquor vends on the highways...did it came as a surprise to you when their counsels contested your petition?

A: Unfortunately as per the data of the Govt..20 percent revenue comes from the sale of liquor, probably there is no other country in the world which depends on liquor sale so much for survival.

Q: Initially it was Punjab and Haryana...but the SC gave a verdict with a pan India ramifications? You couldn't have asked for more?

A: We filed a petition in Rajasthan High Court as well, its such a tough battle, states make it so hard. They use every kind of trick to make it a long one to exhaust you.

Q: But despite a clear verdict, states are still creating hurdles in implementation? The manner in which Haryana Govt has tweaked the verdict will set wrong precedents? Other states will copy to defeat the verdict?

A: It's shocking. I have got used to it. In 2014 when the Punjab & Haryana High Court order came both states said they will not allow sale along highways but they continued to violate all these years. Haryana officers have added the word motorable distance clause to tweak the SC order, even a class 10th student can understand what Supreme Court has said. This takes us nowhere, there will be ripple effect. Chandigarh has already de notified state highways as city roads to ensure that all liquor sale goes as usual, all states are copying it..its spreading like wildfire. We are into our 17th litigation now in this matter. Violations have already started, State is supporting..them..they want to stick to the highways somehow.

Q: But there were other hurdles as well apart from the states and liquor companies?

A: In a fight like this..one would not like to stick to hitting you above the chest..initially there were offers..loads of money..then they tried to scare me..normally people who operate in this business..they are people in power..threats continue even now..anonymous letters..phone calls.. like one caller tried to intimidate me by saying that you will be seen on TV if you will be alive ! And even the State Governments try to tire you off ensuring that your funds to fight the legal battle go dry, one such state cancelled my consultancy for road safety out of anger.

Q: And finally...please share with us..how it all began? How did you land up on this wheel chair and from where did the motivation came to fight this case?

A: In 1996 I had a road crash..I realized the importance of road safety..then I started my campaign..drunken driving and speed kills the most..in India liquor vends dotting highways contribute a lot to this..so the idea came to my mind that something needs to be done to do away with this menace.

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