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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Crowding at liquor vends: SC says states can look at online sale, home delivery

Long queues, extending for a kilometre in some areas, were seen outside liquor stores across the country after the Centre announced relaxations in the third phase of the extended lockdown from May 4.

Written by Ananthakrishnan G , Arun Janardhanan | Chennai, New Delhi | Updated: May 9, 2020 5:10:40 am
Consider home delivery of liquor during lockdown: SC to states People queue outside a liquor shop in Kolkata after the Centre announced lockdown relaxations from May 4. (Express photo by Partha Paul/File)

The Supreme Court Friday said states could explore the option of online sale or home delivery of liquor to avoid crowding at vends in view of the COVID-19 situation.

Dismissing a PIL against the re-opening of liquor vends, the bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and B R Gavai said while it was not inclined to entertain the plea “however, it shall be open for the concerned state government to consider non-direct sale including online sale/home delivery of liquor to facilitate social distancing”.

In Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court, in an interim order on a clutch of petitions including one by Makkal Needhi Maiam of actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan, directed closure of government-run retail liquor outlets in the state till the lockdown is in place.

The bench of Justices Vineet Kothari and Pushpa Sathyanarayana said the government can use online and home delivery models to sell liquor during the lockdown.

In the Supreme Court, the petition by Noida resident Guruswamy Nataraj urged the bench to declare the May 1 Covid guidelines by the Centre as  unconstitutional, null and void “to the extent they permit the sale of alcoholic liquor for human consumption at liquor vends/shops through direct contact sales during the lockdown period”.

Appearing for the petitioner, Advocate J Sai Deepak told the bench that the number of vends were few compared to the demand and there was crowding at the outlets, resulting in social distancing norms being flouted.

He said there were about 70,000 licensed liquor vends in the country and approximately 5 crore consumers.

The bench said there were reports that some discussions about home delivery etc were going on and asked how an Article 32 petition could be maintainable in the matter.

Sai Deepak said states were opening the vends as they had been permitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs and as such the plea was directed at the MHA guidelines with respect to direct contact sales.

He pointed out that Chhattisgarh was already implementing online sale and home delivery, a better alternative to direct contact sales.

He said all the gains made due to the lockdown would be squandered if prohibition of direct contact sale was not brought back. He said a balance could be struck between the state’s interest of generating revenue and public health by permitting only non-direct contact sales through online and home delivery mode.

Explained: Why liquor sales matter to states

He said the life of a common man should not be affected because of the re-opening of the vends.

The petition, filed through Advocate-on-Record Anindita Mitra, said: “The reopening of liquor vends/shops, which rely wholly on direct contact sales to the consuming public, is resulting and will result in unmanageable crowds, leading to the high risk of transmission and spread of Covid-19 due to difficulties in managing physical distancing during such sales, apart from serious issues of maintenance of law and order at such liquor vends/shops.”

In Chennai, petitioners had approached the High Court, seeking closure of liquor shops over violation of conditions for re-opening of Tasmac shops from May 7.

Following the interim order for closure of liquor shops, government sources indicated that this could be challenged before the Supreme Court.

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