31 Oct 2021 6:46 AM GMT
Noting that its distance from the entrance of the Throwbathiammam temple in Puducherry is in excess of the statutorily prescribed limits, the Supreme Court on Friday refused to intervene to disturb the present location of a bar merely on grounds of it being in the vicinity of the temple.The bench of Justices D. Y. Chandrachud and B. V. Nagarathna was hearing an SLP against the July order of...
Noting that its distance from the entrance of the Throwbathiammam temple in Puducherry is in excess of the statutorily prescribed limits, the Supreme Court on Friday refused to intervene to disturb the present location of a bar merely on grounds of it being in the vicinity of the temple.
The bench of Justices D. Y. Chandrachud and B. V. Nagarathna was hearing an SLP against the July order of a division bench of the Madras High Court by which it had recalled, in review, an earlier order of the High Court directing the cancellation of the bar owner's liquor license.
The advocate appearing for the SLP petitioner advanced that because the bar is located at a close proximity from the temple, there are instances of people getting drunk and disrupting the offering of prayers and performance of rituals by the temple and other devotees. It was urged that the bar may not be necessarily shut down and that it may be relocated in view of public sentiment.
"It is not our intent to hurt any religious sentiments. But if the statutorily prescribed distance has been duly adhered to, can we do anything within the law? Moreover, the temple trust has also not raised any qualms to the existence of the bar", observed Justice Chandrachud.
"Besides, even if the bar were to be located 500 m away, there might still be people who consume alcohol and then choose to visit the temple, creating the same problem", added Justice Nagarathna.
The bench then dismissed the SLP.
The matter pertained to the location of a watering-hole by the name of Jothy Bar at Vizhidiyur. The writ petition was disposed of by directing the Commissioner (Excise) of the Government of Puducherry to take steps to cancel the FL-2 license granted to the respondent-owner of the bar.
In review, the division bench of the High Court noted that the basis for passing the order was- "29. A reading of all these judgments and keeping in mind the object of Rule 113 of the Puducherry Excise Rules, 1970, the word 'place of worship' has to be given an expansive meaning. It must not only include the temple, but also include, such lands belonging to the temple, which is being used for conducting functions related to the temple and its activities. If this is accepted then, no liquor shop can operate in R.S.No.3/4 also. Since the distance from R.S.No.3/3 to R.S.No.3/4, is 40 metres only. So, either which way one looks at i.e. where R.S.No.3/4 and R.S.No.3/3 taken as a composite shop or R.S.No.3/4 is taken alone, where liquor shop is situated, the liquor bar located in R.S.No.3/4, is hit by the restrictions prescribed in Rule 113(2) of the Puducherry Excise Rules, 1970. In view of the above, instant writ petition is allowed. The Commissioner (Excise), Government of Puducherry, Puducherry, 4th respondent is directed to take steps to cancel the FL-2 license, granted to the 8th respondent, within four weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order"
Upon receipt of the review applications, several orders were passed, including one for a fresh inspection to be conducted by the Tahsildar, who doubles up as the Excise Officer in Karaikal. A report dated March 15, 2021 was submitted by such Excise Officer along with a sketch-map indicating the locations of the temple, an adjacent land that lies fallow and the bar.
"From such sketch-map, which is appended to the Excise Officer's report, it is evident that the bar is housed at premises bearing Survey No.3/4, though, to the immediate north of such land, there is another plot of land bearing Survey No.3/3 which may be regarded as an extension of the bar, as the lands covered by Survey Nos.3/3 and 3/4 may be used in connection with the bar, notwithstanding the actual location of the room or the space where actual drinking takes place being within the land bearing Survey No.3/4. The outer extremity of the precincts of the bar has been taken to be the northern edge of the property on Poonthottam Main Road. From the northern extremity and boundary wall of the property one has to traverse a considerable distance westwards, alongside and to the north of land bearing Survey No.3/2, to reach a road that leads southwards to the entrance of the temple. The distance from the outer extremity of the precincts of the bar to the entrance of the Throwbathiammam Temple is shown to be 114.5 metre, which is well in excess of the prohibited distance", the division bench had noted.
In the light of such finding, the division bench of the High Court held that there does not appear to be any basis for the licence granted to the relevant bar to be cancelled, since the bar is not located within the prohibited distance, nor does it fall foul of any other condition.
"The official respondents are represented and it appears that there is no objection as far as the official respondents are concerned and such official respondents are satisfied that the existing Jothy Bar meets the parameters for the business to be continued at the relevant premises. The order impugned recorded the distance between the temple gate and the outer extremity of the precincts of the bar to be 79.8 metre, notwithstanding the assertion by the official respondents that the distance was approximately 120 metre. What may have weighed with the Court while passing the order under review was that the land bearing Survey No.3/2 was also owned by the temple and, as such, since such land was contiguous to the land bearing Survey No.3/4, where the bar is situated, the distance between the bar and the temple land was too close for the bar to continue its operations. However, it is confirmed by the official respondents that notwithstanding the land at Survey No.3/2 being owned by the temple, or patta in respect of that land being obtained by the temple, such land lies fallow and there are no religious activities conducted there, whether on a regular basis or otherwise", observed the division bench in review.
It concluded that in the light of the above and, in particular the inspection conducted by the Tahsildar-cum-Excise Officer that culminated in his report of March 15, 2021, the order under review is modified and disposed off the matter without disturbing the present location of the bar run by the eighth respondent. "9. Review Application Nos.22 and 98 of 2020 are allowed and the order dated August 9, 2019 is recalled and substituted as indicated by disposing of the writ petition without any order", directed the bench.
However, it added that in the event the land bearing Survey No.3/2 is put to any regular use by the temple for religious activities, the relevant authorities may have to reconsider the location of the bar.
Case Title: M. Veeramani v. M/S Jothy Bar And Ors