Delhi High Court has asked the Centre as well as the Delhi Government to urgently decide as to how to control the problem of overcrowding and the resultant violation of social distancing outside liquor shops.
While highlighting that this is a policy decision where the court can't intervene, the Division Bench of Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal has asked the two governments to consider the suggestions made during the hearing and take a decision by the earliest to stop further damage.
The decision has come in a PIL seeking a direction to the Respondents to enforce norms of social distancing outside liquor shops or allow online delivery of liquor. The petition did not press for an outright ban on liquor.
Senior Advocate Ramesh Singh, who appeared for the Petitioner, argued that the only way of solving this issue is to allow online sale of liquor. He also informed the court that online delivery portals such as Zomato are willing to join the home delivery system for liquor.
While observing that the online delivery of alcohol might involve safety and security issues, the court observed that:
'The possibility of alcohol being snatched during transit cannot be ruled out. The possibility of home delivery of alcohol, distribution whereof till now is largely in the hands of State, would also increase the possibilities of adulteration of alcohol, also resulting in loss of life. It appears that transit of alcohol from home to home would have to be in the same manner and style as transit of cash between banks and between banks and ATMs.'
The Petitioner did submit that the online sale of liquor can contribute to the spike in the cases of domestic violence. Therefore, he suggested the following recommendations that can be incorporated in the new scheme for the sale of liquor:
While informing the court that it is in process to devise a scheme addressing the issue, the Delhi Government submitted that all liquor shops could not be opened up in the city as the MHA Guidelines prohibit opening up of shops located in shopping malls.
It was further informed by the Delhi Government that the Delhi Excise Act does not permit online delivery of liquor.
Delhi Government also submitted that directions have been issued to liquor shops to enforce social distancing. These include maintaining separate queues for e-token holders and for others. It was further submitted that sale exclusively through e-tokens cannot be allowed as not everyone has access to the internet.
At this point, the court opined that that considering the location and position of most of the liquor vends in the city, it is not possible to maintain social distancing as has been prescribed and the instructions stated to have been issued will not serve any purpose and will remain on paper only.
Most of the liquor vends, the court highlighted, open on and have delivery counter facing the road and do not permit entry of any person therein except the staff deployed for selling. The roads on which the vends are situated also do not permit any prescribed social distancing to be maintained.
On the issue of e-tokens, the court noted that for use of e-tokens to reduce the crowding it needs to considered as to whether at the time of applying for e-token, the patron is able to make a choice of brand of alcohol desired to be purchased, to know the availability thereof and to make payment thereof.
While emphasising upon the urgency of the matter, the court observed that:
'We are afraid that any delay on the part of the Central Government and the GNCTD can exacerbate the problem of crowding outside liquor shops and would defeat the purpose, inasmuch as more the delay, more will be the number of persons outside liquor shops, each day, who will come in close contact with each other, increasing the probability of spread of Covid-19. Moreover, it is not as if the problem is of a permanent nature, solution whereof can be devised at leisure; the problem is perhaps of a few days more inasmuch as once the patrons of alcohol are satisfied that there would be no further closure, the crowding outside liquor shops is likely to disappear.'
Therefore, the court asked the Centre as well as the Delhi Government to consider all these suggestions and observations while urgently formulating a policy on sale of liquor in the state.
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