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10 April 2017 Editorial


10 APRIL 2017 

None for the road

SC order on liquor ban

The SC should examine the consequence of its order on the liquor trade - and amend it

The liquor trade, as the Supreme Court has emphasised, is indeed res extra commercium, something outside the idea of commerce. It exists solely at the discretion of policymakers without any concomitant fundamental right that other businesses enjoy. The point was cited by the court while ordering that liquor sales be prohibited within 500 metres from national and State highways. In a different sense, it only underscores how much the executive is, and ought to be, involved in policy-making on the subject. Imposing restrictions on the location of liquor outlets, applying them in a differential manner to vends, hotels and standalone bars is undoubtedly an executive decision. It is possible to argue that the executive will be lax in enforcement, corrupt in licensing or too revenue-centric to worry about the social costs of its decisions. However, is that reason enough for the judiciary to impose norms without regard to the problems that they may give rise to? Frankly, the answer is no. The court's ill-considered order is wholly concerned with the availability of liquor - to the point that it bans sale of liquor on highway stretches even within city and town limits, where police checks are quite common - and does not touch upon strengthening the enforcement of the law against drunk driving. With the same moral outrage against high fatalities on our roads, and with much less economic cost, the court could have ordered stricter patrolling on highways and regular check-points.

The order has come down like a sledgehammer not only on the liquor vends and the hospitality sector but also on the revenues of State governments, on the business of hotels and bars, and the tourism potential of many parts of the country. The inventive responses of State governments and the industry give an idea of how much they are affected by it - and indeed how absurd the court's order is. States are downgrading highways into ‘urban roads' or ‘major district roads', moves fraught with consequences as safety and quality norms may be compromised; local bodies, which now have to maintain them, may not find the required resources. Some luxury hotels situated on highways are creating alternative entrances to claim that their bars are located beyond 500 metres. An enterprising owner has built a maze of sorts to create a longer walking distance from a highway to his bar. It is not clear how the 500-metre distance is to be measured - as a straight line from the highway in any direction or along the paths leading to an outlet. One may denounce or laugh away these moves to circumvent the order; but they can be also seen as desperate responses from those fearing loss of income, jobs and business. The court should have the wisdom and the humility to examine the consequences of its order and do the necessary thing - amend it.


A reckless intervention

US missile attack on Syria 

The American air strikes on Syria raise questions of legality and purpose

The U.S. missile attack on a Syrian airbase, which President Donald Trump ordered after civilians in the rebel-held Idlib province were hit with chemical weapons causing the deaths of at least 80 people, marks a departure in American policy towards the war-ravaged country. Though President Barack Obama had repeatedly said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should go, he resisted calls for military action in this regard, primarily for two reasons: he wanted the U.S. to stay focussed on the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and was wary of dragging the U.S. into a direct confrontation with Russia, which is backing the regime. Even Mr. Trump's Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, had said that Mr. Assad's future was up to the Syrians. But then came the chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, leading Mr. Trump to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles on the al-Shayrat airbase in Homs. On the face of it, it appears to be a bold move intended to take Mr. Assad to task for his actions. But in truth, the Trump administration has risked escalating the Syrian crisis to far more dangerous levels. Once the brouhaha over the attack settles, Mr. Trump will face the question of what he really achieved from the missile strike. Did it establish any deterrence in Syria? Will it help in the long run to mitigate the suffering of the Syrians or bring the civil war to an end?

The strike also raises questions about its legality. The UN Charter clearly states that any attack on another country needs Security Council approval unless it is an act in self-defence. On the ground, the U.S. action seems to have cemented the alliance between Moscow and Damascus further, with the former sending a warship to the Mediterranean and threatening to halt a "deconfliction" channel, a hot line between the Russian and U.S. defence ministries to avoid direct confrontation in Syria. Mr. Trump could have waited for the UN to complete its probe into the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun before initiating military action, while simultaneously working to build a consensus on Syria at the UN Security Council. The U.S. and other countries could also have put more pressure on Moscow to rein in Mr. Assad, and offered support to the peace process backed by Russia and Turkey. If the last six years of the deadly civil war in Syria offer a concrete lesson, it is that there are no quick fixes to this crisis that has political, sectarian and geopolitical dimensions. Removing Mr. Assad forcibly may sound purposeful, but it risks a direct confrontation between the U.S. and Russia and could result in the deaths and displacement of many more Syrians, triggering another wave of refugees. The primary focus of the international community should be on ending this war, not on lighting new fires.

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