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Posted: Friday, 08 May 2020 15:15

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Supreme Court suggests Home Delivery of Liquor during Covid Pandemic

May 08: For the first time, a direction and positive suggestion from the Supreme Court comes today with the bench refusing to pass any order to ban liquor sales but recommending that States should consider indirect sale /home delivery of liquor to maintain social distancing, while rejecting a PIL to ban sales for this reason, writes Subhash Arora

Supreme Court has refused today (Friday) to pass an order to ban liquor sales in the middle of the Coronavirus Lockdown 3.0 that has triggered large crowds across states, sparking fears of virus spread. It maintained that state governments should consider online sale or home delivery of liquor to address the problem of overcrowding.

The Supreme Court was hearing a PIL today (Friday) that sought to ban liquor sales saying overcrowding at liquor shops risk large-scale transmission of coronavirus. Supreme Court has dismissed the PIL of crowding at liquor vends. However, the highest court also said that it will not interfere in the issue of liquor sales and that it has to be a policy decision of the government.

Advocate J Sai Deepak, who appeared for the petitioner, said “Social distancing is not being maintained. The number of liquor shops is very less and number of people who want it is very large.”

A majority of States allowed the sale of liquor from Monday, May 4 as the lockdown conditions were relaxed in many areas. As expected, the liquor thirsty thousands with withdrawal symptoms rushed to the liquor shops to pick up supplies, possible more than their normal purchase and all rules of social distances were flouted in many places.

Delhi even took the greedy route of imposing 70% Corona Cess on MRP on Tuesday while Bangalore had announced a 17% increase in excise including the earlier increase of 6%. Maharashtra with the highest number of Covid-19 cases simply cancelled the notification after 2 days, making ban effective again.

Chhattisgarh was the only State which came up with a website from where one could place the order and deliveries could be made to the buyer’s home with all the restrictions in place. Punjab also allowed home delivery. Same has not been done in Delhi and Bangalore, where the situation has been made worse due to the gap of around 40 days. When the lockdown was announced from March 25, barely 4 hours of time was available and most people could not pick up their usual liquor requirement. At that point the Lockdown was for 3 weeks only but it was extended for further 2 weeks till May 3 and yet again till May 17 but sale of liquor was still banned.

That has resulted in the current chaos. There is a section that opposes the sale as it fears that the Corona Virus would become more difficult to contain and the death rate may even go up. There are some women groups which are anyway concerned about the abuse of alcohol by their husbands.

West Bengal is another state that has reportedly allowed home delivery. Delhi is also considering something similar. Not in a mood to lose the huge tax collection that comes with the sale of liquor, government in Delhi is also considering the similar step.

In fact, Zomato and Swiggy, the home food delivery apps have indicated their willingness to support the home delivery. National Restaurants Association of India is also working on a home delivery model that can be incorporated into delivery of wine and liquor. Of course, Retail shops would also love to take on the home delivery on extra payment which the consumers are glad to pay.

However, it may not be as simple as ordering a pizza. There are problems with tax leakages and legally minors ordering that would need to be sorted out and a fool-proof system of checking and monitoring by the government to ensure that the liquor distributors do not take the government for a ride. But that should not be a problem with strict checks. Bootlegging and black-marketing that has been going on, will need to be firmly handled and crushed effectively before it can be allowed in the normal excise policy.  

Subhash Arora

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