Covid lockdown: SC stays Madras HC order of closure of liquor shops in state

By: |
May 16, 2020 3:00 AM

The Supreme Court on Friday stayed a Madras high court that asked the Tamil Nadu government to close state-run liquor shops with immediate effect on the ground that there was violation of guidelines, including maintaining physical distancing, meant to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the Friday’s stay order, the state-owned liquor shops may reopen.With the Friday’s stay order, the state-owned liquor shops may reopen.

The Supreme Court on Friday stayed a Madras high court that asked the Tamil Nadu government to close state-run liquor shops with immediate effect on the ground that there was violation of guidelines, including maintaining physical distancing, meant to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the Friday’s stay order, the state-owned liquor shops may reopen. The HC, on May 8, had ordered closure of liquor outlets noting that there were huge crowds and no social distancing was being maintained. It, however, allowed doorstep delivery of liquor through online mode.

A bench, led by Justice L N Rao, stayed the HC’s May 8 order on an appeal by the state-run Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC), which sells alcoholic beverages in the state, stating that the closure of such shops would lead to ‘grave losses’ in revenue and complete halt in commercial activities. The apex court also stayed all the proceedings before the HC in the case and also issued notice to the respondents (who were PIL petitioners in the high court).

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the state, argued that the HC order was arbitrary and unreasonable as it had encroached upon the state domain. He said that it was state’s prerogative to decide how to conduct sale of liquor and contended that high court cannot decide the mode of selling.

“It is the decision of the state how and what to sell… Why should the high court get into it? Why should a person need an Aadhaar card to buy liquor? There will be riots,” Rohatgi said, adding that an indefinite closure of liquor shops would lead to ‘grave’ revenue and commercial losses.

“We do not have tender services, it is impossible. How can we sell online. There are many issues regarding adulteration and other such considerations. How can we trust someone to carry liquor,” Rohatgi said.

The lawyer also said that the state has already imposed restrictions and is closely enforcing and monitoring social distancing norms. Also, conditions imposed by the high court, like a person cannot purchase more than two bottles of alcohol of any one type and must give Aadhaar details at the time of sale, were both illogical and unworkable, he said, adding that home delivering liquor would expose it to adulteration and would also cause social and domestic problems.

In line with the central government’s directive on May 1 permitting the sale of liquor in states, the Tamil Nadu government had, on May 5, allowed resumption of liquor sales through TASMAC shops from May 7.

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