Amid an ongoing tussle between the state government and liquor contractors who have not opened their shops, the Madhya Pradesh High Court Tuesday restrained the government from taking any coercive action against liquor contractors and issued notices on a contempt of court plea.
Nearly 70 per cent liquor shops in the state have not opened because the contractors want revision of license terms, arguing that they will incur huge losses if they open shops as the situation has changed drastically due to Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions.
In a bid to persuade contractors to open shops, the cash-strapped government relaxed timings and increased the price of liquor by 10 per cent. However, the contractors did not relent, initially arguing that opening shops will cause the infection to spread, and later moved the High Court seeking re-auction of the shops or revision of the original license terms.
On May 27, senior advocate Naman Nagrath said the petitioners sought interim protection, arguing that the government was threatening to encash their bank guarantees, deposit cheques and initiate action under the excise act for not opening the shops. He said when the court was dictating order against any coercive action, the government gave an undertaking that no action will be taken against contractors.
When some liquor contractors started getting notices after May 27, a plea was filed in the High Court to initiate contempt proceedings against the government. On Tuesday, the court issued notices to the state government and the excise commissioner.
Liquor shops in main centres such as Indore, Bhopal, Ujjain, Jabalpur, Gwalior, Khandwa and Chhindwara have remained closed but those in small places like Hoshangabad, Raisen and Rajgarh have opened.
Rahul Jaiswal, a spokesman for the liquor contractors’ association, said they were not keen on opening shops because the government did not give relief sought by them. “We want the government to allow us to exit from the license agreement. Let the government re-auction the shops or let the excise department run them,” he said, adding the government should return the deposits collected from them.
The petition is filed by 30 big contractors who contribute nearly Rs 4,500 crore in revenue.
The association has argued that closure of hotels, bars and resorts and restrictions on marriages and other gatherings have ensured that the sale has gone drastically. Beer sales are the highest in summer but have come down drastically because people think they will get the infection by drinking chilled beer.
The petitioners cited the example of Khargone, where a license was cancelled when the contractor could not deposit the requisite money. When the license was auctioned again in April, it fetched nearly 30 per cent less than the original amount.
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