Pub Alert: Liquor Bars Along Highways In South Shut Shop After Ban

After the SC order banning sale of near highways, many pubs have received notices in Chennai and Bengaluru.

Freddy's Cocktail Lounge functioning out of Hotel Ekaa on Bengaluru’s Hosur Main Road has stopped liquor sales, for now.

Chennai’s popular pub, Q Bar in the Hilton, will not sell liquor on Saturday. The bar in Cosmopolitan Club in Kerala’s Palakkad, too, has shut shop for the day.

Thousands of bars, pubs and liquor vending shops across the country are downing shutters and are unsure when they would open next. They are all waiting for relief from the Supreme Court.

On Friday, the apex court ruled that the national ban on sale of liquor within a particular distance of national and state highways will be upheld. The judgment says that these establishments cannot function after 31 March 2017. (The excise year ends on 1 April in most states.)

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The SC also said that the ban extends to not just liquor vending shops, but bars and pubs too. In cities and large towns, these establishments cannot function if they are within 500 metres of a highway.

SC Cracks Whip

The court, however, reduced the 500-metre threshold to 220 metres in areas where the local population is less than 20,000.

The SC bench that heard petitions against its order from December 15 2016 said that not extending the ban to restaurants, bars and pubs would defeat the purpose of curbing drunken driving.

Last December, the court asked all state governments to close down all liquor shops that function within a range of 500 metres from the edge of highways. States have also been asked to “cease and desist” from issuing excise licenses after 31 March, reported Indian Express.

While Meghalaya and Sikkim have been excluded from the order, establishments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana also have a few more months to remain open. The excise year in Telangana ends on 30 September, and in AP, it ends on 30 June.

Nagesh Reddy, owner of 10 Downing Street in Chennai, said, "We have not received a notice, so we won't have to shut. But many pubs on Mount Road will have to, as it is a state highway. The 10 Downing Street franchise in Coimbatore will shut down. After the weekend, we will think of approaching the court for relief.”

Crushing Blow

Associations in Bengaluru, however, said that many pubs and bars that have licenses valid till 1 July this year will remain open.

“As of now there’s just hearsay. We haven’t got any official word from any government department. But for those bars that renewed their licenses before December 15 2016, their license is valid till July 1 this year,” said Ashish Kothare, member of the National Restaurant Association of India’s Managing Committee.

Kumar (name changed), who has been the manager at a leading pub in Chennai said, “Bars in hotels like the Grand Chola, Hyatt Regency, Hilton, and lots of places on the ECR and the OMR will have to close as they fall on the national highway. Places on Mount Road will also have to shut.”

“Lots of people woke up today and read the paper and discovered the news. But no circular or order has come yet. Measuring will start and then they will be asked to close,” he added.

Freddy's Cocktail Lounge at Hosur Road in Bengaluru confirmed that their bar would remain shut. “We have closed the bar counter in view of the SC ruling and only the restaurant is functional from today,” said Jineesh, the manager.

“We had drafted the notice and kept it ready ahead of the SC hearing. Now that we have an extension, we will rework our liquor policy and start serving notices in June or July. We will meet the September 30 deadline set by the court,” said M Santhosh Reddy from the Telangana State Beverages Corporation Ltd.

Receiving Notices

Q Bar, the rooftop pub at the Hilton, has confirmed that it has received a notice to close down following the Supreme Court order. Srikanth, Beverage Manager at Q Bar, said that while the pub will remain closed on Saturday, he cannot comment on future course of action at the moment.

“The situation would be worse in places like Gurugram where most pubs are near highways,” a manager of a pub in Chennai said.

365 AS, the lounge at Hyatt Regency in Chennai’s Teynampet, has also received a notice, and while the hotel refused to comment on the issue, it did confirm that the lounge will remain closed for the day.

A staff from Flying Elephant, Hyatt Chennai, said that the bar is shut on Saturday. When asked for more information, they refused to comment.

Pasha (The Park) was also not functioning on Saturday, the hotel staff confirmed.

(The story was first published on The News Minute and has been republished with permission.)

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