29 Dec 2021 12:51 PM GMT
In a public interest litigation filed by GA Jagaannathan, former President of Karikkalmapakkam Village Panchayat, Madras High Court has asked the Union Territory of Puducherry to temporarily ban the supply of alcohol from 10 PM on New Year's Eve till 1 AM on 1st January. A Division Bench of Justices S. Vaidyanathan and D. Bharatha Chakravarthy mandated there shouldn't be any sale...
In a public interest litigation filed by GA Jagaannathan, former President of Karikkalmapakkam Village Panchayat, Madras High Court has asked the Union Territory of Puducherry to temporarily ban the supply of alcohol from 10 PM on New Year's Eve till 1 AM on 1st January.
A Division Bench of Justices S. Vaidyanathan and D. Bharatha Chakravarthy mandated there shouldn't be any sale of alcohol during the said time window in Bars, Bar attached restaurants/ hotels or any other places for public consumption. The court added that such extraordinary measures are normally not imposed, especially upon a tourist location like Puducherry. However, the fact that two Omicron variant Covid cases have been reported from the Union Territory is concerning though the counsel for UT, N. Mala, informed the court that both of the affected persons have already recovered.
"Prevention is better than cure", the court recalled the age-old adage while clarifying the reasons behind such a restriction.
In addition to that, the court has also made the following directions:
"In addition to that, we want to emphasise that no person in Puducherry not having taken two vaccination doses shall be allowed in public places after 7 PM on 31st evening. Officials posted for supervising the situation as well as the police, if they demand for proof of vaccination, the same must be furnished. In order to ensure safety of pedestrians and public, breath analysers should be made available in sufficient numbers to prevent drunken driving from consumption of alcohol."
The court also noted that the Government has already decided to impose a curfew in Puducherry from 1 AM – 5 AM on 1st January, 2022. The Division Bench also reminded the citizens to show responsibility, cooperate with the government and prevent the spread of pandemic, though several shopkeepers have already been given licenses to supply alcohol.
About the Union Territory's apprehension that it might affect their revenue, the court orally remarked that it was just three hours and the restriction is necessitated by the current circumstances.
Today, the writ petitioner brought to the court's attention the factum of two confirmed Omicron cases from Puducherry while also pointing out that large scale gatherings during new year celebrations will aggravate the chances of a rapid covid outbreak, especially Omicron. The counsel for the petitioner, M Gnanasekar, also pointed out that India has dealt with Covid-I in 2020 and Covid-II in 2021, and there are growing fears of Omicron infections. The Union Territory of Puducherry has a dearth of hospitals and hospital facilities to handle such an outbreak that might occur from New Year Celebrations, submitted the counsel.
The Government Pleader for Union Territory (UT), N. Mala, vehemently disagreed with the arguments placed by the petitioner and reminded the court that its Division Bench had commented upon the UT Government for its laudable efforts in curbing the pandemic. There are no shortage of beds or dearth of hospital facilities as alleged by the petitioner, the counsel said. The counsel for UT also added that there was a meeting that was chaired by the District Collector of Puducherry on 28th December, which was attended by other functionaries including the Municipal Commissioner, and that a comprehensive 16 point measures have been adopted to ensure covid appropriate behaviour of public. She also produced the minuted of the meeting held before the Bench.
According to the Union Territory's Counsel, arrangements have already been made for stay in Hotels and holding other events. At the last moment, it is impossible to refund the hotel charges/ cancel the events, she added.
About the 16-point steps that will be strictly followed by the Union Territory, the counsel informed the court that no person who does not possess double vaccination certificates will be permitted inside Pondicherry hotels. All the event organisers are required to give an undertaking to the effect that they won't accommodate over 50 per cent of the total area for functions. She also added that the administration has only received two applications for outdoor events and three applications for indoor events, whereas the window for seeking permission for conducting events will close at 5 pm today.
She also added that the mobility of the vehicles will be restricted in crowded areas of Puducherry. It was also argued that the Union Territory's intention was to balance the economic interests with that of the safety and welfare of the public, as revealed by the extensive meeting held and the 16 points enumerated in the minutes.
After hearing both parties, the court observed that the Union Territory was not inclined to temporarily suspend the sale of alcohol on New Year's Eve when the Bench posed a similar question to the Respondent. The court had asked the UT to prevent the sale and supply of alcohol from 30th December onwards for two days.
The court also noted that the Union Territory has made masks mandatory and made an arrangement to distribute masks to those who aren't wearing it.
About the newspaper report relied upon by the petitioner counsel to point out that there will be huge risks associated with rising number of gatherings in the UT, the court observed:
"We cannot take paper news as Gospel Truth." While saying so, the court also mentioned that the Government has already taken steps to curtail the extent of celebrations by putting forth the 16-point measures.
The court has also instructed the Administration that none of the celebrities should partake in any New Year Celebrations in public post 10 PM to control the number of people assembling. However, the court has given express consent for the celebrities to attend private New Year events.
The matter has been posted on 3rd January. 2022 for further orders.
Case Title: G.A. Jagaannathan v. Union of India & Ors.
Case No: WP 28431/ 2020
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