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Liquor purchase allowed twice a week with a gap of 3 days, Bill should record Aadhaar: Madras HC guidelines for liquor sale amid COVID-19

The guidelines were issued while refusing to stay the State Government's decision to re-open TASMAC/liquor vending outlets from May 7 on PIL seeking to prohibit alcohol sale amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meera Emmanuel

The Madras High Court on Wednesday 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 (B Ramkumar Adityan v. Chief Secretary, Tamil Nadu and ors).

While dealing with a PIL by B Ramkumar Adityan to prohibit liquor sale while the pandemic persists, the Court said that since it was a policy matter, "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."

The Court added that it has already dismissed a similar plea on May 4, and further that, "The balance of revival of economic activity and management of COVID related disease has to be maintained by the State Authorities and it is not within the domain of the Court to interfere with the same.”

All the same, the Court proceeded to issue certain additional directions to be adhered to during the sale of alcohol in Tamil Nadu, adding to the precautionary guidelines already issued in Government notifications in this regard.

The additional directions issued by the Madras High Court Bench of Justices Vineet Kothari and Pushpa Sathyanaranana include the following.

Limits on alcohol purchase at a time

  • Adding to the prohibition on bulk sales, the Court has said that “not more than two bottles of 750 ml each (including wine, beer etc.) of any one type will be sold to one customer at a time."

  • Those paying through approved online modes may purchase two bottles a day as detailed above.

  • Those without mobile/smart phones or online payment apps can purchase only one bottle a day.

  • The customer cannot make purchase of liquor more than twice a week and with a minimum gap of three days.

Cash payment prohibited unless customer does not have digital pay facilities

  • To avoid unnecessary malpractices of over charging through cash payments and to encourage digital payment, the payment for liquor purchase should be made through approved E-payment applications like RuPay, Bhim, Google Pay etc. which can be made available to all smart phone holders and easily assumed in shops.

  • The Court added “the payment through these banking channels will not only keep a track and check on the sale of liquor, but is also likely to prevent those who do not intend to pay through known and approved sources.”

  • To encourage digital payment and online booking, the Court has also directed that those who book liquor and make the online payment will be permitted to buy up to two bottles of one type of liquor a day.

  • Those who do not make online payments and who do not book orders online, as they may not have such mobile phone facilities, will be allowed to purchase only one bottle of 750ml in a day based on the tokens issued to them.

  • Cash payment is prohibited save for those who do not have mobile facilities to make online payment. This was in view of a submission that there were over 7,000 MRP violations booked by the State in the last ten months.

  • The Court also noted that cash payment would not be a justified course of action in COVID-19 times.

  • The State of Tamil Nadu and the TASMAC authorities have also been directed to consider online methods of liquor sale with online payment, by employing the issuance of online tokens coupled with time slots for purchase. This was suggested as a measure to avoid unnecessary crowding in TASMAC/liquor outlets.

Aadhaar, name, address of purchaser to be recorded in Bill

  • The Bill of sale should include the “name, address and Aadhaar number” of the customer.

  • The Court has added that “if any sale is found to be made in violation of this direction and such fact is brought to the notice of this court, that shop in question will be immediately closed and will not be allowed to be reopened, except by the specific orders of the Court.”

Other directions include the Court's reiteration that bars attached to retail vending shops will not be permitted to function. The entry point to such bars will be closed and sealed. Drinking liquor in public places is prohibited.

Further the Court has also emphasised that the liquor sale should be in strict compliance with the Government notifications already issued, which lays down precautionary measures including, inter alia,

  • measures for crowd management,

  • social distancing,

  • prohibition on more than 5 persons at a time in the shop,

  • shop timings being limited to 10 am-5 pm,

  • that shop personnel wear triple layer masks and sanitise their hands,

  • there should be no bulk sales,

  • that a token system has to be followed,

  • that a public address system must be put in place etc.

Any pleas on similar issues have been directed to be placed before the Bench on the next date of hearing. The matter has been posted to be taken up again on May 14.

The petitioner, B Ramkumar Adityan, appeared party-in-person. Advocate General Vijay Narayanan and Additional Advocate General SR Rajagopal, assisted by Government Pleader V Jayaprakash Narayanan appeared for various State authorities. TASMAC was represented by Advocate Sathish.

Senior Advocate R Vaigai and Advocates K Balu, Y Kavitha and K Balan Haridas appeared for petitioners in related writ petitions that were to be numbered. Advocate Anirudh Krishnan appeared for an applicant-company that argued favouring the online sale of alcohol.

Read the Order:

B Ramkumar Adityan v. Chief Secretary, TN.pdf
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