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"Not for Courts to lay down how liquor can be sold", Supreme Court says, allows TASMAC to file detailed response on liquor sale policy

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today allowed Tamil Nadu's TASMAC to file a detailed response on the law and policy around the sale of liquor in the State amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while observing that it is not for the Courts to lay down how sale of liquor can be done (Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation Ltd and Ors vs. B Ramkumar Adityan).

The three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and MR Shah was hearing the plea filed by TASMAC against the Madras High Court's orders when it observed that policy decisions pertaining to the sale of liquor are under the State government's domain.

The Bench noted that it is not up to the Courts to lay down how the sale of liquor can be carried out, but for the States to chart out such policy.

We, however, observe that it shall be open for the State to take a call with regard to manner of distribution, sale of liquor (on-line sale and home delivery also) and issue appropriate guidelines for managing them.
Supreme Court said

Having said this, the Court allowed TASMAC to file a detailed reply within a period of three weeks charting out the methods and modalities for the sale of liquor amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On May 15, the Supreme Court had stayed the orders passed by the Madras High Court on the issue.

Initially, the High Court had declined to order the closure of the TASMAC shops amid the pandemic. Instead, it had imposed certain additional conditions for the liquor sale.

However, the High Court thereafter ordered the closure of these shops after large-scale violations of the safety norms issued were brought to its notice. It added had added at the time that online sales may be allowed, once the State determines ways of carrying out such online sale.

When the appeals filed challenging this orders were taken up today, the Supreme Court accepted the submission made for TASMAC that it cannot be issued such directions to only sell alcohol through online modes or home deliveries.

Further, Senior Counsel Mukul Rohatgi told the Supreme Court on behalf of State of Tamil Nadu that pursuant to the order of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) passed on May 30, the "entire country has been opened up" and that the issue regarding the opening of TASMAC shops did not need consideration any more.

Rohatgi added that time was required so that a detailed response may be filed to highlight how the TASMAC shops were functioning and to point out that all protocols in place were being complied with.

The Court allowed for this response to be filed by TASMAC. The case is likely to be taken up next after three weeks.

Even in its earlier hearing in the case in May, the Supreme Court had observed that it can only ask the State governments to consider certain modalities for the sale of liquor. However, the decision on the subject ultimately lies with the State government, the Court opined. The Court made the observation while issuing notice on the pleas challenging the Madras High Court orders, which were also stayed by the top Court.

On May 8, the High Court had ordered the State to close all TASMAC/liquor vending stores in the State of Tamil Nadu amid lockdown owing to large scale violation of safety norms when these outlets were re-opened on May 7.

The previous order passed by the High Court on May 6, which had laid down certain guidelines for allowing the sale of liquor, is also under challenge before the Supreme Court.

Read the Order:

Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation Ltd and Ors vs. B Ramkumar Adityan.pdf
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