Indore/Bhopal/ Jabalpur, June 7 (IANS) The cash-strapped Madhya Pradesh government, keen to reopen liquor shops and raise some quick money, will now have to either take over the liquor trade or refloat tenders for the business for private players.
The Madhya Pradesh High Court ordered the private liquor contractors to surrender their licences or to continue the business under the prevailing terms.
The issue went to the court as the liquor cartel wanted the government to revise the terms for the trade in the state in view of the downturn caused by nearly 70 days’ of lockdown.
The government was coercing the vendors to continue business with all the restrictions thrown in by the lockdown. The business hours were brought down from 12 hours to less than six hours and the bars attached to the vends were forced shut due to lockdown terms, causing immense loss to the traders.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mittal and Justice V.K. Shukla said the state government is entitled to auction shops afresh if liquor contractors don’t submit the affidavit in the given time.
The petitioners’ lawyer Naman Nagrath said that the court noted that recovery of dues from the petitioners in case of re-auctioning of shops shall be subject to the decision of the writ petitions being heard.
The division bench restrained the state from taking any coercive action against the petitioners during the pendency of the writ petitions till next date of hearing on June 17, the counsel said.
A petition filed by 30 liquor contractors along with 23 other petitions having common issues came up for hearing in the court. In their petition, the liquor contractors sought direction from the court to the state government to either revise the terms of liquor contract or recall the entire bidding process for the current fiscal in view of the downturn due to the pandemic.
Around 60 percent of outlets selling Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) were closed in Madhya Pradesh for over a week following a tussle between the state government and the liquor contractors.
The liquor contractors began surrendering their licenses from Saturday just a day after the court offered the option. In Indore, a group of liquor contractors surrendered their contract, through a letter to the excise department. The traders asked the excise department to return part of the earnest money amounting to Rs 58 crore. After Indore, liquor contractors of Bhopal and of other districts may surrender their contracts.
On the other hand, the state government has planned for fresh auction of liquor contracts to be surrendered by the contractors. The file related to fresh auction of liquor contract has again been sent to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
The tenders of those contractors who will not submit affidavit will be cancelled. After the cancellation of tenders, the excise department will be free to let shops reopen through fresh tenders, the court said. The court said the contractors who will submit affidavit will be allowed to run shops on the present terms.
The court assured the contractors that the government will not penalise them if they surrender the licenses. After the lockdown, there was a dispute between the government and the liquor contractors over licence fee. The state government gave relief to the liquor contractors by raising the prices of liquor by 10 per cent. But the contractors in many districts refused to reopen shops.
The state government has constituted a Group of Ministers for the year 2020-21 to take decisions on the implementation of excise policy and related matters and to take necessary and immediate policy decisions in the revenue interest on the situation created.
The Group of Ministers constituted under the chairmanship of Narottam Mishra, Minister of Home and Public Health and Family Welfare, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection, Cooperative Minister Govind Singh Rajput and Tribal Welfare Minister Meena Singh Mandve will be the members. The Principal Secretary will be the Secretary of the Commercial Taxes Committee.