The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Madras High Court’s order directing closure of liquor stores in the State of Tamil Nadu during the lockdown.
While effectively allowing liquor stores in the State to be reopened from tomorrow, the Bench comprising of Justices L Nageswara Rao, SK Kaul and BR Gavai also stayed the additional conditions which had been imposed by the High Court and issued notice in the matter.
On May 8, taking note of the huge crowd situation at retail outlets, the Madras High Court was of the view that conditions imposed by it, for regulating the crowd in TASMAC (Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation) shops selling liquor, were “blatantly violated”.
However the Court had permitted online sales and home delivery of alcohol. Aggrieved by this order, State-owned TASMAC had immediately moved the Top Court.
Appearing for the petitioner, Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi urged the Court to stay proceedings before the High Court contending that it cannot pass orders of this nature.
Referring to the guidelines and restrictions regarding social distancing which were imposed by the State and State Corporation, Rohatgi argued against the conditions laid down by the High Court, urging that they could not have imposed restrictions of their own.
“The problem is that the High Court imposed its own restrictions. They could not have entered into the domain of policy, and thus cannot pass such orders”, Rohatgi contended.
Specifically with regard to conditions of online sales, the Senior advocate emphasised that it was the State’s prerogative to decide how to conduct sales.
He raised issues that arise from selling liquor online and reiterated that the State must be decide these issues with interference from the Court.
“We could choose to sell two bottles or more…We must decide whether we should sell online or not, and how it’s possible to do so…
Why should a person need an Aadhar card to buy liquor? Why should there be digital payments for liquor?
We do not have tender services, it’s impossible…How can we sell online? There are many issues regarding adulteration and other such considerations.
How can we trust someone to carry liquor (they may adulterate it)? Tamil Nadu is a huge state, not like Delhi. There could be riots”, argued Rohatgi while throwing light on various aspects that the State must consider to decide how to sell liquor.
Categorically stating that the Court may only ask the government to consider online delivery, the Bench agreed with the former Attorney General’s submission and stated that it was incumbent upon the State to take that decision.
However, Advocate PV Yogeswaran, appearing for the respondent argued that the sale of liquor was not a fundamental right and given the risk of infection, precautionary measures must be taken.
“Selling liquor is not a fundamental right, it is a commercial activity. We are not seeking for total ban, but precautionary methods have to be followed”, he submitted.
Further apprising the Bench that the High Court was scheduled to take up the matter tomorrow, Yogeswaran urged the Apex Court not to interfere at this point.
However, reiterating that the Court could only ask the State to consider selling liquor online, the Bench stayed the order, granting relief to the State owned liquor vends, who can now reopen their shops.