The Supreme Court on Friday permitted Tamil Nadu government to devise methods to sell liquor -- online or physical sales -- and said that it is not for a court to lay down a framework as to how alcohol can be sold. A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.R. Shah said that the medium for sale of alcohol is for the state government to decide, and it is not for the court to lay down a framework as to how it can be sold.
The apex court accepted the plea by Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) that it cannot be instructed to sell liquor only through online mode and home delivery.
The top court also agreed that regulations on sale of alcohol have to be made by the state government. TASMAC agreed to file an affidavit within three weeks regarding the standard operating procedure (SOP) put in place for sale of liquor in retail shops.
In May, the apex court had stayed the Madras High Court order for the closure of state-owned liquor vends during the lockdown, as people, while purchasing liquor, blatantly violated social distancing norms.
The apex court, after considering the appeal of TASMAC, stayed the Madras High Court order passed on May 8. "We can only say, it is for the government to consider online delivery, it is up to the government to decide," said the court.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for TASMAC, had said, "How can we trust somebody to carry liquor? There will be riots, someone can adulterate liquor. Tamil Nadu is a large state unlike Delhi."
He insisted that the Madras High Court should not have imposed its own conditions for sale of liquor, and by doing this, the high court entered into the state's domain of policy making. Rohtagi insisted that it was the state's prerogative to decide how to conduct the sale of liquor.
Lawyer P.V. Yogeswaran, representing the petitioners who moved the high court, said the sale of liquor was not a fundamental right and precautionary measures must be taken in view of the coronavirus outbreak, and the top court should not intervene in the matter.
TASMAC was directed by the high court to close liquor shops. The state government in its plea said the apex court has refused to entertain a writ petition seeking total ban on sale of liquor, as the same is a policy matter within the domain of the state.
"The high court misinterpreted the May 8 order passed by a three-member bench of this court, in which the court declined to direct states to close down liquor stores pending the lockdown and left it to each state's discretion to consider non-direct sale, including online sale/home delivery of liquor," said the plea filed in the top court.