ONLINE SALE OF LIQUOR: LEGAL ANGLE BY KUNAL JAIN

This article is written by Kunal Jain, from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. This article is related to the judgement given by Supreme Court on the online sale of Liquor.

Introduction: New Plea in Supreme Court against HC Order Permitting Online Sale of Liquor

Madras High Court via its order dated May 8, 2020 ordered to close all the liquor shops in the state with immediate effect just to enforce physical distancing till the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted stating that “the online sale of liquor is not feasible as it is unworkable & evidently against public interest” but allowing the online sale of liquor & door delivery system, So, a Special Leave Petition was filed against the order of the high court dated May 8, 2020 under Section 55 to 57 of the Disaster Management Act & Section 268 to 271 of IPC.

It was contended in the case that the wine shops & other outlets should have been closed because the police force were out-numbered to handle such a large crowd in front of the wine shops giving rise to the spread of COVID-19 amongst the public. So, the online sale of liquor was crucial in order to comply with the guidelines given by the ministry & also to have a source of revenue generation as the liquor sales are the key source for various governments

Legal Basis of Permitting Online Sale of Liquor

The supreme court left it open for the states to consider online sale & delivery of liquor during this pandemic just in order to facilitate social distancing. Further it was also contended that it would be a grave injustice to the people of Tamilnadu including the present petitioner if the SC does not stay with the operation & implementation of the final judgement given by the high court.

Permitting the online sale of liquor was also necessary because it solely generated around 25% of the state revenue which is really necessary during this lockdown period. Also Seventh Schedule of the constitution has exclusive responsibility to make all the rules which regards their marketing as well.

Article 21 of the constitution also comes to the play which clearly says that the no one can be deprived of their life & personal liberty & any sort of emergency is not an excuse to trample on the rights mentioned under Article 21 as it will be unfair to the people.

Issues Raised

  1. Whether the court was right to allow the state of Tamilnadu to sell liquors online?
  2. As mentioned under the provisions of Essential Commodities Act, 1955 Liquors & wines are not considered essential commodities. So, whether the High court failed to consider that?
  3. Whether the high court failed to consider the consequences of consuming alcohol during the COVID-19 Pandemic?
  4. Whether the principles of Ubi Jus Ibi Remedium is applicable?
Arguments Made in the Plea
Petitioner:–
  1. ­Petitioner claimed that the impugned order had failed to note the multiplication of domestic violence upon woman during the lockdown due to this online sale of liquor.
  2. Ministry of Home Affairs had already laid down guidelines that the ecommerce will only take place only for the essential items as mentioned under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 but the High Court still encouraged it.
  3. Another argument made by the petitioner was that not abiding by the guidelines as laid down by the central governments will only break the rule of law and will substitute it for the rule of whims.
  4. Petitioner’s main concern were about women who were the most affected victims in this liquor sales.
  5. Petitioner claimed that the SC should not consider achieving economic re-stabilizing since it is fallacious, illogical to the data & unethical.
Respondent:–
  1. During the lockdown all the liquor shops were filled with such a large crowds. So, this raises a concern that such a large crowd outside liquor shops were a rampant of the abuse of the social distancing norms as laid down by the ministry.
  2. Respondent also claimed that the online sale & delivery of liquor would be entirely be left to the discretion of the state.
  3. The respondent claimed that the limit of consumption of alcohol during the lockdown can be controlled by the state & can be at their discretion only.
  4. The State government can generate a lot of revenue by the online sale of liquor as it will help them in this COVID-19 pandemic.
  5. The reluctance to allow the online sale of liquor comes with the ones who are underage & can be addressed with an online age-gating technique & mandatory age-checks at the point of delivery.
Similar Pleas in Other States
  • Plea in Kerala High Court:–

The high court in its judgement rejected the petition seeking the online sale of liquor & levied the petitioner to pay 50,000 INR to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund stating that while the state is struggling to cope with the threat, such a petition is an attempt to mock the judiciary. Since, the courts will consider only urgent cases in the matter of public interest, this selfish behavior was condemned as the petitioner had to pay a total of 50,000 INR.

  • Plea in Delhi High Court:–

Following the judgement given by the SC, a petition was filed in Delhi high court seeking directions from the Delhi government to start making proper policy to start online sale of liquor. The petitioner also sought directions to the respondents to take policy decision on the mode of distribution of liquor.

Critical Analysis

The Supreme Court after listening to arguments by both the parties asked the states to consider the online sales & home delivery of liquor during the lockdown period to prevent the spread of Coronavirus after considering the overcrowding at the wine shops & it was a good step taken by the court since when the shops were opened it was almost impossible for the government or the police force to control such a large crowd & also the public was not following the guidelines of the central government.

The Supreme Court ordered that the states will decide how to execute the online sale of liquor which includes the distribution of the liquor for sale for the public. This also a good fact that the Supreme Court considered the report submitted by WHO which said the side effects of consuming alcohol & limited the consumption of alcohol by an individual. As the report goes on that the heave use of alcohol does weaken the immune system & thus will reduce the ability to cope with the infectious disease like COVID-19 & also that it increases the risk of interpersonal violence on women.

Conclusion

Supreme Court by refusing it order to stay sale of liquor also suggested some alternatives since, according to the report for 2019-20 , 29 states along with Delhi & Puducherry had exercised a revenue of over 1.75 Lakhs INR just from liquor sales. The court’s decision was totally correct as this online sale of alcohol will not only just serve as a key source of revenue generation during COVID-19 Pandemic but will also help the states follow the guidelines laid down by the central government. As the SC observed that the combating crowd was a concern, it was held that the states could consider alternate approaches for alcohol such as home delivery & online sale of liquor & also held that the principle of Ubi Jus Ibi Remedium is not applicable in the present case.

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