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"Video clippings and the Newspaper reports clearly go to prove that COVID-19 pandemic preventive norms were thrown into air making serious concerns about the spread of the virus", the Court noted.
The Madras High Court on Friday directed the closure of TASMAC/liquor vending outlets in Tamil Nadu, a day after it initially declined to intervene on a plea urging that they remain closed during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Court has ordered,
The order was passed this evening by a Bench of Justices Vineet Kothari and Pushpa Satynarayanan on a batch of pleas moved today, citing large scale violations of the guidelines issued for the sale of alcohol.
On being informed of this state of affairs today, the Court has now directed the closure of alcohol vending outlets in the State, although it added that online or door-to-door delivery may be permitted.
After recording submissions made by Advocate Anirudh Krishnan regarding e-payment facilities that may be employed, the Court said,
In this regard, the Court also noted that the State Government may have to amend the Tamil Nadu Liquor (License and Permit) Rules, 1981"to have the technology enabled home delivery to promote responsible consumption of alcohol."
Given the present pandemic situation, the Court commented that "it is imperative that the Government of Tamil Nadu should look at option of online sale and home delivery."
The Bench took critical note that all the precautionary directions given by the TASMAC authorities as well as the High Court on Thursday "have been thrown into air."
Apart from startling photos and videos attesting to the same, the Court also observed that there were reports of law and order problems and "about the share of TASMAC in bringing in domestic violence and also death of four people."
The Court proceeded to note that, "Now what worries this Court is this mad rush for the liquor, where thousands of people without following any of the norms prescribed by the State, TASMAC authorities or by this Court, would only lead to witnessing the form of surge of new cluster..."
In this backdrop, the Court also observed in one day alone, the TASMAC sales added up to Rs 175 crores. The Bench remarked that this "only goes to show that the State machinery is out of control either in disciplining the crowd or even in the process of sales."
Advocate General Vijay Narayan, Additional Advocate General SR Rajagopal, assisted by Government Pleader Jayaprakash Narayan appeared for the State. Advocate Sathish appeared for TASMAC.
Various petitioners were represented by Senior Advocate ARL Sundaresan, for Advocate KS Karthik Raja, and Advocates S Ilamuhil, Jumraj Milton and Y Kavita. Petitioner B Ramkumar Adityan appeared party in person.
The matter will be taken up next on May 14.
The development comes a day after the Court refused to stay the re-opening of TASMAC outlets for the sale of alcohol from May 7 onwards amid the third phase of the COVID-19 lockdown since it was a policy matter.
In yesterday's order, the Court had remarked, "We are of the opinion that we cannot totally prohibit the re-opening of the TASMAC shops for sale of Liqours, including Beer, Wine etc. in the State."
However, it had issued a number of additional guidelines to be adhered to concerning the limits of alcohol purchase per person per day, a bar on cash payments save for those without online payment facilities and a direction that the bill of sale include the name, Aadhar number and address of the customer.