The Supreme Court’s order to close liquor shops on highways has earned an onslaught of criticism from various quarters, not least from the liquor lobby.

The rationale behind the judgment of deterring drunken driving and consequent loss of life has been challenged on the basis of statistics not justifying the action.

Of the two official analysis of road accidents, the National Crime Records Bureau’s report on Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2015 has been oft quoted by critics. The report suggests that about 1.5 per cent of all the total 4.64 lakh road accidents were caused by drunken driving or driving under influence of drug or alcohol, resulting in injuries to 6,295 people.

The offence, however, according to the report, resulted in 2,988 deaths — more than 8 deaths every day — accounting for just over 2 per cent of all fatalities in road accidents.

Numbers would suggest drunken driving is only a drop in the macabre ocean of road accidents which resulted in 1.48 lakh deaths in 2015, though the Supreme Court called it one the major causes of road accidents.

In an earlier order in December last year, the Apex Court had said, “In regard to the figures of death or injury due to drunken driving there is a tendency to under estimate or under-report in order not to impede the right of victims and/or their legal heirs to receive compensation,” suggesting the actual figures would be significantly higher.

The disparity is evident in another official report from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

The report Road Accidents in India 2015 puts the number of accidents caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol as well as the fatalities much higher — 3.3 per cent of all road accidents and 4.6 per cent of all fatalities from road accidents.

That translates to 6,755 deaths annually or more than 18 deaths every day across the country.

What’s more, the Ministry report has further broken down the figures into accidents and deaths caused by the driver’s fault.

This further pushes up the numbers — 4.2 of all accidents caused due to the driver’s fault and 6.4 per cent of all such deaths was due to the consumption of alcohol by the driver.

The number of accidents and deaths that alcohol causes on the road is clearly a matter of contention and likely higher than any of these reports suggest.

In 2011, the Ministry had admitted that drunken driving was one of the leading causes of road accidents and attributed as many as 27,152 accidents to it. In comparison, its 2015 report attributes 16,298 accidents to alcohol and the NCRB attributes only 6,970 accidents to it.

The truth may be much graver.