New Delhi, May 15 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Madras High Court order for the closure of state-owned liquor vends during the lockdown, as people, while purchasing liquor, blatantly violated social distancing norms.
A bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, S.K. Kaul and B.R. Gavai, after considering the appeal of the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC), stayed the High Court order passed on May 8. “We can only say, it is for the government to consider online delivery…it is up to the government to decide,” it said.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for the TASMAC, said how can the state do online sales, as it does not have the necessary means. “How can we trust somebody to carry liquor? There will be riots, someone can adulterate liquor. Tamil Nadu is a large state unlike Delhi,” he contended before the court.
He insisted that the High Court should not have imposed its own conditions for sale of liquor, and by doing this, entered into the state’s domain of policy making. Rohtagi insisted that it was the state’s prerogative to decide how to conduct the sale of liquor.
Lawyer P.V. Yogeswaran, representing the petitioners who moved the High Court, said the sale of liquor was not a fundamental right and precautionary measures must be taken in view of the coronavirus outbreak, and the top court should not intervene on the matter.
On Friday, state-owned Tami Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) was directed by the High Court to close liquor shops. The state government, in its plea, said the apex court has refused to entertain a writ petition seeking total ban on sale of liquor, as the same is a policy matter within the domain of state. “The High Court misinterpreted the order May 8 passed by a three member-bench of this court, in which the court declined to direct states to close down liquor stores pending the lockdown and left it to each state’s discretion to consider non-direct sale including online sale/home delivery of liquor,” said the plea filed in the top court.
The Tamil Nadu government contended that the apex court order recognised states have a broad margin of power to determine whether and how to affect sales of liquor in this lockdown period and therefore, the High Court order is a clear case of judicial overreach. “The court below has pushed the petitioners in a position where the only option available to them is to effect sales through online methods and home delivery and has laid down further directives as to how to effect this,” its plea said.
The state government submitted that it is pertinent that online modes of effective liquor sales are not even available in the vast majority of state at present and can only be implemented after following the due procedures under law.
A division bench of the High Court comprising Justices Vineet Kothari and Pushpa Satynarayana, taking note of long queues and assembly of large crowds outside liquor shops, ordered the closure of alcohol vending outlets in Tamil Nadu till the lifting of lockdown. It observed people have blatantly violated the conditions imposed for regulating the crowd in TASMAC shops selling liquor.