States have been advised to consider “indirect sale, home delivery” of liquor to ensure minimal crowds and enforcement of social distancing protocols at alcohol shops across the country, the Supreme Court said today, declining to entertain a PIL (public interest litigation) seeking a ban on direct sale of liquor (sale through shops) during the lockdown period.
Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and BR Gavai heard the case via video-conferencing as the Supreme Court continues to follow distancing norms enforced during the extended lockdown.
“We will not pass any order but states should consider home delivery or indirect sale of liquor to maintain social distancing,” the three-judge bench of the top court said in response to the petition.
“Discussion on home delivery (of alcohol) is going on. What do you want us to do?” Justice Kaul added.
App-based food delivery company Zomato is said to be considering branching out into door-delivery of alcohol, according to a document seen by news agency Reuters.
There is currently no legal provision for home deliveries of alcohol in India, something industry body International Spirits and Wines Association of India (ISWAI), Zomato and others, are lobbying to change.
Appearing for the petitioner, lawyer J Sai Deepak argued social distancing was difficult to ensure at alcohol shops because of the limited number allowed to re-open and the massive crowds outside each.
“I only want (that the) life of (the) common man should not be affected because of liquor sales. MHA (Home Ministry) should issue clarification to states on liquor sales,” Mr Sai argued.
Alcohol stores, closed nationwide on March 25, were allowed to re-open this week, generating queues of hundreds outside outlets in some cities and leading to baton charges by police to enforce social distancing protocols.
The government’s order said only standalone alcohol shops in “orange” and “green” zones, or areas where there were no more than 15 confirmed coronavirus cases, would be allowed to re-open. Shops in non-containment areas of “red” zones were also allowed to re-open.
All shops would have to follow social distancing protocols and ensure that no more than five people were allowed inside the shop at any time.
However, as the shops re-opened on Monday, massive crowds broke out with distancing norms flouted and police in various states resorting to force to restore order.
In response, some states, including Delhi, have imposed “corona taxes” on alcohol sales. The Delhi government has imposed a massive 70 per cent tax on liquor, with the Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh administrations announcing similar measures.
The Delhi government has also introduced an e-token system to help control crowds – people looking to buy alcohol can log on to a web link to buy one of 50 tokens that will be issued per hour for each shop.
The Tamil Nadu government has introduced age-specific time slots for the sale of liquor, which has only been made available in certain parts of the state.
The push to re-open alcohol shops and re-start liquor sales has been linked by many to the government looking to raise funds from tax on sale of alcohol; Maharashtra, for example, collected Rs 11 crore on the first day after sales were permitted, a top official said Tuesday.