Landmark Case: State of Tamil Nadu vs. K. Balu & Anr.

State of Tamil Nadu vs. K. Balu & Anr.

Court: Supreme Court of India.

Judges: T.S. Thakur, CJ., D.Y. Chandrachud, L Nageswara Rao, JJ.

Facts of the Case

These proceedings have arisen under Article 136 of the Constitution from the judgments of the High Courts at Madras and Punjab and Haryana respectively. The Madras High Court was seized with a public interest litigation seeking the removal of retail outlets for liquor on national and state highways, contrary to the advisory of the Union government dated 1 December 2011. The High Court noted that in the state of Tamil Nadu liquor shops along the highways are being run by Tamil Nadu State Marketing Transport Corporation (TASMAC).

It was stated by TASMAC that 75 shops have been shifted and a new location for 335 shops had been identified. Six months’ time was sought for shifting the shops; the affidavit having been filed in March 2013. The High Court by a judgment and order of its Division Bench dated 25 February 2013 granted time until 31 March 2013 for the relocation of existing liquor shops being run on national/state highways. This order of the High Court has been questioned by the State of Tamil Nadu and TASMAC.

Insofar as the State of Punjab is concerned, the petition for special leave has been filed by the state government against a judgment and order of a Division Bench of the High Court dated 18 March 2014. Like the case before the Madras High Court, the proceedings before the Punjab and Haryana High Court were instituted in public interest (in this case by the Arrive Safe Society of Chandigarh) seeking directions for the removal of liquor vends from highways. The High Court directed the State of Haryana to ensure in its liquor policy that no liquor vend shall be located along the national highways/state highways and that liquor shops are not accessible or visible from those highways or from the service lanes running along such highways. The High Court rejected the case of the state that the prohibition should be confined only to the national highways. The High Court has, in our view, justifiably held that it can hardly be contended that drunken driving is not permissible on national highways but does no harm on state highways. In relation to the States of Punjab as well as Haryana the High Court has held that the prohibition would apply to state and national highways.

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  • Whether the law made by the Parliament on an item mentioned in the Union List (Schedule 7 of the Constitution) would also apply mutatis mutandis to a similar item in the State List if the matter pertains to public policy?
  • Whether the restriction/ban on the sale of liquor near National and State Highways amount to the violation of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution?

The judgment of the Case

  1. Obiter Dicta

It is the duty of the court to imperfectly alleviate the consequences of road accidents by confining to the parameters for the exercise of its jurisdiction to the familiar terrain of enforcing the constitutional right to lead a life of dignity and self-worth.

  1. Ratio Decidendi

The Hon’ble Apex Court directed the Centre and State Governments to restrict/ban the sale of liquor along state and national highways. The directions issued by the Court are:

  • All states and union territories shall forthwith cease and desist from granting licences for the sale of liquor along national and state highways;
  • The prohibition contained in (i) above shall extend to and include stretches of such highways which fall within the limits of a municipal corporation, city, town or local authority;
  • The existing licences which have already been renewed prior to the date of this order shall continue until the term of the licence expires but no later than 1 April 2017;
  • All signages and advertisements of the availability of liquor shall be prohibited and existing ones removed forthwith both on national and state highways;
  • No shop for the sale of liquor shall be (i) visible from a national or state highway; (ii) directly accessible from a national or state highway and (iii) situated within a distance of 500 metres of the outer edge of the national or state highway or of a service lane along the highway.
  • All States and Union territories are mandated to strictly enforce the above directions. The Chief Secretaries and Directors General of Police shall within one month chalk out a plan for enforcement in consultation with the state revenue and home departments. Responsibility shall be assigned inter alia to District Collectors and Superintendents of Police and other competent authorities. Compliance shall be strictly monitored by calling for fortnightly reports on action taken.
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Reason for the Decision

The backdrop to the case is provided by alarming statistics on the occurrence of road accidents. They have claimed human lives and caused debility and injury. Both on a personal scale (in terms of the injuries and loss of life) as well as in a social context, restitution in the form of mandatory awards of compensation can never undo the trauma of loss and the pain of suffering. The law can only imperfectly alleviate the consequences of road accidents. In terms of personal suffering caused to individuals and families as well as in terms of deprivation caused to society of its productive social capital, road accidents impose unacceptable costs.

Comments to the Case

The judgment seeks to preserve the society and is a reflection of the Supreme Court’s power of judicial activism to serve the public interest. It is the foundation of policy statements of the Union government which have been formulated after careful consideration to enforce the parameters for the exercise of its jurisdiction are confined to the familiar terrain of enforcing the constitutional right to lead a life of dignity and self-worth.

However, the major shortcomings in the judgment are:

  • Failed to include other inter-city roads.
  • This decision is not very effective in preventing drunken driving as people can still buy liquor before the journey or from places other than Highways.

Yet, despite these shortcomings, the judgment and the directions contained therein will have a positive effect in reducing the road accidents due to the careless of alcohol-induced drivers who drive in a fast fashion, with high speeds.

By Sonal Vyas