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The Delhi High Court has asked the Central and Delhi governments to take a decision on functioning of liquor shops and the possibility of online sale of liquor at the earliest to prevent more damage from being caused.
With this request, the Court disposed of a batch of petitions which sought for liquor sale to be stopped in Delhi or alternatively for ensuring sale is done while ensuring norms of social distancing are followed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bench of Justices Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Sangita Dhingra Sehgal disposed of the petitions stating that the Court does not intend to issue any directions, given that the issue pertaining to sale of liquor is one that falls within the ambit of executive decisions.
The Court noted that all the suggestions made during the course of the hearing have, however, been taken on record and may be considered by the authorities while taking a decision. The Court was informed that the authorities were at the stage of taking a call after having considered various measures for preventing overcrowding at liquor stores, which were recently allowed to open during the lockdown.
Keeping in view the urgency and importance of the issue around sale of liquor in Delhi, the High Court has requested the governments to take a decision at the earliest.
Apart from stopping the sale of liquor in Delhi or alternatively allowing for sale while ensuring social distancing norms are maintained, the petitions before the High Court also sought a direction for the government to allow online sale and home delivery of liquor.
The Court, at the outset, took note of the development at the Supreme Court earlier this month where a similar petition was dismissed. The Apex Court had asked the state governments to consider allowing online sale and home delivery of liquor.
The High Court observed that none of the counsel except one pressed for a direction of total prohibition. The lone counsel who sought prohibition also changed his stance subsequently, after the aspect of revenue collection from alcohol sale was pointed out to him. He was also asked to suggest an alternative source of revenue for the state.
The Court was apprised with various suggestions to ensure that liquor can be sold safely.
Counsel submitted that food delivery services such as Zomato and others had offered to engage in delivering liquor given their already established business model for food delivery. The safety of these carriers, however, is a point of concern as the Court pointed out. The unruly conduct demonstrated by the people in Delhi after the liquor stores opened in Delhi after a month of lockdown raised the issue of safety.
Social issues such as increased domestic violence and underage drinking were also considered by the Court. It was suggested that liquor may be delivered only upon production of age proof of the buyer, and that large quantities of alcohol may not be delivered or sold to a single buyer. The packaging of home delivered alcohol may prominently display domestic violence helpline numbers, it was suggested.
The propriety and quality of alcohol in transit will also be an issue that will have to be considered, since spurious liquor also leads to health issues and even death, the Court noted.
Some of the other suggestions made were that licenced vendors and restaurants may be allowed to sell alcohol and the deliveries allowed shall be within the designated timeframe. Further, a record of all the people who come in contact with delivery should be maintained to facilitate contact tracing.
The Court was informed that all the vendors could not be permitted to be open on account of the restrictions in place, since the state governments are not empowered to relax restrictions imposed by the Centre under the Disaster Management Act of 2005.
Highlighting the urgency of the issue, the Court said,
"We are afraid that any delay on the part of the Central Government and the GNCTD can exacerbate the problem of crowding outside liquor shops and would defeat the purpose, inasmuch as more the delay, more will be the number of persons outside liquor shops, each day, who will come in close contact with each other, increasing the probability of spread of Covid19."
The problem at hand is not of a permanent nature, and therefore a decision on the same cannot be taken at leisure, the Court added.
However, the Court was assured by the NCT government that various measures were being considered such as issuance of e-tokens for purchase of alcohol, separate lines for people with and without e-tokens, and opening up of cyber cafes for people without internet access to procure e-tokens, among others.
The possibility of deploying increased number of personnel outside liquor vends is also being considered. However, the same cannot be a solution, Court observed.
The Court finally requested the governments to take a decision at the earliest after also considering the suggestions made by the various petitioners during the hearing. The pleas were thus disposed of.
Petitioner Ambrosia Foundation was represented by Advocate Dhananjay Singh Sehrawat.
Petitioner Chandani Sood was represented by Advocates Shlok Chandra, Gauri Puri.
Petitioner Civil Society Council of India was represented by Advocate Arvind Vashishth.
Petitioner Sajag Nijhawan was represented by Senior Advocate A.S Chandiok with Advocate Simran Kohli.
Petitioner Varun K Bala appeared in person.
Delhi Government was represented by Standing Counsel Ramesh Singh with Advocates Dhananjay Mishra, Bhawna Kataria.
Read the Order: