Tamil Nadu

Coronavirus lockdown | HC closure of liquor shops is judicial overreach, TN tells SC

Social distancing went for a toss in Kadambathur in Tiruvallur district as people gathered in large numbers to purchase liquor from a TASMAC shop.   | Photo Credit: M. Vedhan

The Tamil Nadu Government on Saturday challenged a Madras High Court order of May 8 to close liquor shops in the State with immediate effect to maintain physical distancing till the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted or modified.

It said an indefinite closure of liquor shops would lead to ‘grave’ revenue and commercial losses.

Also read: Long queues, umbrellas used to reserve spots, as TASMAC outlets open across Tamil Nadu

The State government accused the High Court of judicial overreach while highlighting that the ban order was passed the very same day the Supreme Court dismissed an identical call to close liquor shops across the country.

State-run business

Tamil Nadu, represented by advocate Yogesh Kanna and State Additional Advocate General Balaji Srinivasan, said liquor retail is owned and operated by the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation Limited (TASMAC). The order for an open-ended ban was on the basis of petitions by parties interested in keeping the State-run liquor shops closed.

On the issue of online liquor sales and home delivery, Tamil Nadu said the Supreme Court had clarified on May 8 that a decision on online sales and home delivery of liquor would be entirely left to the discretion of the States.

“The Supreme Court order recognised that States have a broad margin of power to determine whether and how to effect sales of liquor in this lockdown period,” Tamil Nadu's appeal said.

It said no other State, except Maharashtra where the virus figures were three to four times more than Tamil Nadu, sold liquor exclusively through online means. Online sales could at best supplement sales through physical outlets.

Logistical problems

“E-payment and home delivery call for immense logistical coordination, supply chain management, which needs time, manpower, especially in the present COVID-18 situation,” the petition contended.

Also read: On Day 1, chaos prevail at TASMAC shops in Chennai’s neighbouring districts

Besides, it pointed out that the Tamil Nadu Liquor (License and Permit) Rules, 1981 does not provide for online sales. State would also have to amend the Tamil Nadu Liquor Retail Vending (In Shops and Bars) Rules of 2003. The High Court cannot dictate liquor sale policy to the government, it contended.

“The direction of the High Court to indefinitely close all TASMAC shops was disproportionate when considered against the fact that the State had made elaborate bandobast arrangements for crowd control and prompt action was taken by the police wherever there was overcrowding,” the petition said. 

The State had issued a government order on May 5 to resume the operation of TASMAC shops from May 7. The order was in line with a directive issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs on May 1 permitting the sale of liquor in States, subject to physical distancing.

The May 5 government order had, however, made it clear that liquor sales would continue to be banned in shops located in malls, market complexes, containment zones and the area falling within the jurisdiction of Greater Chennai Police.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 11:12:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/coronavirus-lockdown-tamil-nadu-moves-sc-against-hc-order-barring-counter-sale-of-alcohol/article31542992.ece

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