‘Huge revenues on one hand and policy to eradicate evil of alcohol on the other, Quaint Gandhiana!’: Bombay HC

‘Huge revenues on one hand and policy to eradicate evil of alcohol on the other, Quaint Gandhiana!’: Bombay HC

Omkar Gokhale

The Bombay High Court was recently prompted to raise eyebrows over the state’s dual policy to curb alcohol use on the one hand, while simultaneously accumulating revenue from alcohol sale on the other hand. Taking note of the irony involved, the Bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice RG Avachat remarked,

On the one hand huge revenues are generated by levying excise and additional duties on alcohol, simultaneously the state professes to eradicate the evil of alcohol. Quaint Gandhiana!”

The Court made the observation while dealing with a plea filed seeking the closure of a liquor shop in a village. The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by one Sachin Bhairavkar, who had challenged the decision of the District Collector refusing to shut down a liquor shop in Savalvihir village of Ahmednagar District.

The PIL was filed in the backdrop of a Maharashtra Government state policy of empowering women to prohibit sale of alcohol in their village if 50% of the adult women resolve that the liquor vent be closed. This has to be proceeded by 25% women moving the resolution.

The petitioner claimed that the authorities had ignored the representation of the women residents made under this policy, despite the representation being endorsed by the requisite 50% of women residents. It was submitted that such a representation had been made back in December 2012 to the District Collector as the liquor outlet in question was causing a nuisance to them.  Advocates Ajinkya Kale,  SB Talekar and UR Awate, appeared for the petitioner.

In response, however, the government claimed that the rejection was due to certain discrepancies found in the resolution presented by the women, as noted during an inspection conducted by the State Excise Department. Before the Court, the state submitted that of the 716 women said to have endorsed the resolution, 280 women claimed that they were misguided into signing the same, 265 women denied signing the resolution, 4 were found to be dead and 11 were contended to have been impersonated. Therefore, the state argued that the number of persons who moved the representation was less than the required 25%. Additional Government Pleader MA Deshpande appeared for the state authorities.

In their reply, the petitioner stood firm that the resolution had been passed in tune with the state policy.

The Bench, in turn, noted that since nearly seven years have passed since the resolution in question was submitted, it would be a highly disputed question of fact as to whether the women who appended their signatures on the representation had voluntarily done so. As observed in the order,

We are in the year 2019 today. The solution to the vexed problem is to direct that if the womenfolk of the village decide as of today that the liquor vent in the village be closed, they would be permitted to make a requisition to the Tahsildar in-charge of the revenue estate of the village.”

Therefore, the Court disposed of the plea by granting liberty to the women residents to file a new representation with the state authority, who was directed to decide on the same in accordance with the state policy.

“The resolution as per the requisition would be put to vote and such number of women who support the motion would be obtained so that there is authenticity to the fact as to what number of women supported the resolution to stop the sale of alcohol in their village. If more than 50% of the women vote in support of the resolution to close the liquor vent, the excise authorities shall act in terms of the policy decision.”

[Read Order dated September 24, 2019]

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