States should consider home delivery of liquor during lockdown: Supreme Court
Long queues, extending for a kilometre in some areas, were seen outside liquor stores across the country after the Centre announced relaxations in the third phase of the extended lockdown from May 4.
In what could be sweet music to tipplers, the Supreme Court Friday observed that states should consider online sales and home delivery of liquor to ensure that the social distancing norms are not violated in view of the Covid-19 situation.
The observation came from a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and B R Gavai while hearing a petition by Guruswamy Nataraj. The plea filed through Advocate Anindita Mitra sought a direction from the court declaring the new guidelines dated May 01, 2020 by the Centre as unconstitutional, null and void, “to the extent they permit the sale of alcoholic liquors for human consumption at liquor vends/shops through direct contact sales during the lockdown period”.
Appearing for the petitioner, Advocate Sai Deepak said the number of liquor vends is less compared to the demand and as a result, there is crowding at the outlets with social distancing norms being flouted.
The bench said there are reports that some discussions about home delivery etc are going on and asked what he wanted the court to do. To this, Sai Deepak replied that the petitioner only wants that life of a common man should not be affected because of the situation. He submitted that the Centre should make necessary clarifications and the states should abide by it.
Declining to pass any order, the bench then observed that the states could consider online sales and home delivery.
The plea referred to reports from various parts of the country about “widespread chaos and unmanageable situations at and around liquor vends/shops” when they opened on May 4. “The reports indicate that crowds of large numbers of people are gathering in a disorderly manner at and around liquor vends/shops, without following any social distancing norms, and the swell of crowds even leading to lathi charge by the police in certain areas”, the plea said.
“The health and safety of all persons who gather at and around the liquor vends/shops, the personnel of the liquor vends/shops, the police officials who have to be deployed and intervene, passers-by and the public at large is being endangered and jeopardised, increasing the scope for further transmission of Covid-19 amongst the population. The reopening of liquor vends/shops, which rely wholly on direct contact sales to the consuming public, is resulting and will result in unmanageable crowds, leading to the high risk of transmission and spread of Covid-19 due to difficulties in managing physical distancing during such sales, apart from serious issues of maintenance of law and order at such liquor vends/shops,” it argued.
Long queues, extending for a kilometre in some areas, with scant regard for social distancing were seen outside liquor stores across the country after the Centre announced relaxations in the third phase of the extended lockdown from May 4.
Explained: Why liquor sales matter to states
The sale of liquor is part of the overall opening of economic activity that the government is attempting in the third phase of the lockdown, and is expected to earn states much-needed revenue. Liquor is one of the biggest sources of revenue for most states. In most states, the revenue share of liquor is between 25-40%.
So far, three states—West Bengal, Punjab and Chhattisgarh—have permitted home delivery of liquor with an aim to avoid large gatherings at standalone shops. The Delhi government, meanwhile, is discussing the home delivery option, though it has launched a website for people to apply for e-tokens to buy liquor at a pre-decided time.
Several states have hiked taxes on liquor, along with other initiatives to boost state revenues from alcohol sale as well as ensure consumer maintain social distancing while purchasing the same. While the Delhi government levied a ‘special corona fee’, raising alcohol prices by 70 per cent, Andhra Pradesh hiked the price of liquor by 75 per cent through an increase in excise duty.