Enthused by the positive response from consumers to the empty liquor bottle buy-back scheme introduced by Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (Tasmac) at 163 liquor shops in hilly areas across 10 districts at its instance, the Madras High Court has insisted on implementing a pilot project for extending the scheme across the State.
Justices N. Sathish Kumar and D. Bharatha Chakravarthy took note that the Supreme Court had refused to interfere with an order passed by them on October 11, 2022, to introduce the scheme on a trial basis in all the liquor shops in Coimbatore and Perambalur districts, though Tasmac had taken the order on appeal citing manpower, logistic and financial constraints.
The Supreme Court had observed that the High Court would take note of the constraints while passing the final orders and since only an interim order had been passed as of now for implementing the project in just two districts on a trial basis, Tasmac was given liberty to approach the High Court and seek additional time for implementation.
Accordingly, the Bench led by Justice Kumar granted time till April 1 this year for Tasmac to introduce the scheme in all 395 liquor shops in Coimbatore and Perambalur districts. It said the corporation could introduce a QR code system so that empty bottles could be returned to any shop in a district and not necessarily to the shop from where the liquor was purchased.
The judges also called for a report by April 17 with respect to the additional income that had been generated by Tasmac after the introduction of the scheme. They further wanted to know how the empty bottles were stored by Tasmac and utilised by the successful tenderers who purchase them.
It was on April 25, 2022 that the High Court for the first time directed Tasmac to introduce the buy-back scheme in the Nilgiris district alone after amicus curiae M. Santhanaraman brought it to the notice of the court the bleeding injuries suffered by elephants and other wild animals due to littering of the empty glass bottles in forest areas.
Thereafter, the scheme was ordered to be extended to all hilly areas, including Kodaikanal, Megamalai, Top Slip, Yercaud and Kolli Hills, and also in the liquor shops situated around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Tasmac was ordered to charge ₹10 over and above the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) and refund it on return of empty bottles.
Accordingly, Additional Advocate General J. Ravindran reported to the court that it was implemented in 163 liquor shops spread over 10 districts. The response in eight districts — Vellore, Salem, Dindigul, Namakkal, Erode, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Tiruvannamalai — was over 90%, while it was 70% in the Nilgiris and 57% in Coimbatore (South).
After successful implementation of the scheme in the hilly areas in the 10 districts, the judges ordered implementation of a pilot project in all liquor shops in two districts to avoid the nuisance caused by the littering of empty bottles in agricultural fields and at other public places. They also took note of injuries sustained by rag pickers while touching broken bottles.
However, the AAG told the court that Tasmac had divided Coimbatore into north and south for administrative convenience and that there were a total of 305 liquor shops in the entire district. Further, there were 90 shops in Perambalur district. In total, 1,663 employees were working in the 395 shops and they had to be trained in collecting empty bottles, he said.
He said Tasmac would require a minimum of three months to implement the scheme in all 395 shops in the two districts. The judges accepted his request partly and granted two months’ time.