Ker HC | Exasperated with reckless & insolent action, Court imposes exemplary costs of Rs 50K on petitioner seeking online delivery of alcohol amid outbreak of COVID-19

Kerala High Court:With a deep sense of exasperation and a tinge of disgust”, A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar, J., wrote the judgment while dismissing a writ petition filed by a citizen who had approached the Court seeking a seemingly innocuous direction to the Kerala State Beverages Corporation, to consider and pass orders on the representation preferred by him before the said Corporation, within a time limit to be fixed by the Court.

In his representation, the petitioner had asked the Corporation to take a decision to make available potable liquor for delivery to consumers in the State through online platforms. The petitioner stated that while the usual mode of sale of potable liquor is through the various retail outlets of the Corporation, and the said outlets are inevitably crowded during business hours, the outbreak of COVID-19 virus has rendered it unsafe for him to visit an outlet for procuring alcohol for his consumption. His representation to the Corporation, suggesting alternate modes of delivery of alcoholic liquor to consumers, was stated to have been preferred under the said circumstances.

The circumstances under which the petition was filed irked the High Court. It was observed by the Court that consequent to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, Kerala has been under severe pressure to develop and adopt adequate measures to help contain the spread of the virus. The pressing concern that the State faces today is with regard to the transmission of the virus from an infected person to others, especially the elders in Society, through healthy individuals who may act as carriers of the deadly virus. Taking cue from the advisories issued by the Health authorities, the High Court had issued directions for restricting the number of cases to be filed in Court to the bare minimum, and in respect of only very urgent matters, so that the administrative machinery would not have to spend long hours in crowded conditions. The restrictions were contemplated only for a short period from 16-3-2020 till 31-3-2020, to coincide with the end of the transmission period of the virus, as projected by the Health authorities. The Court had also published clear instructions to the litigating public and lawyers to exercise their discretion in identifying and filing only such cases during the aforesaid period, as were very urgent and could not brook even a fortnight’s delay, for recourse to justice. Distressed, the High Court noted:

“… notwithstanding the clear instructions given with a view to attaining the objectives of the Health Department, writ petitions have been indiscriminately filed before this Court, even when there would be no prejudice caused to the interests of the litigant had they waited till 31.3.2020, for filing their case. The citizenry ought to realize that the restrictions imposed by this Court on the filing of cases is with a view to ensuring that their fundamental rights as citizens, for access to justice, is guaranteed to the extent possible, even at the cost of exposing the Judges, lawyers, clerks and staff of this Court, to the risk of viral infection. When measures such as these are adopted by this Institution in public interest, the very least that is expected from the litigating public is a sensitivity to the interests of their fellow citizens in Society, who like them have fundamental right to a safe place of work and a healthy environment.

The Court went on to state that the instant case was yet another one, in a series of such petitions, that manifests the total insensitivity of a litigant to the interests and well being of his fellow citizens. It was observed:

“One cannot help but lament at the selfishness of the petitioner in the instant case, and others like him in Society, whose obsession with perceived ‘rights’ blinds them to the obligatory ‘duty’ that they owe to their fellow citizens.

The petitioner’s conduct in filing this frivolous petition at a time like this, while making a mockery of the salutary concept of access to justice, which this institution strives to guarantee, also ridicules the functioning of this noble institution.

The Court was of the opinion that the petitioner could not be lightly let away for such reckless, insensitive and insolent action. The petitioner now sought to withdraw the petition, but the Court held that merely because he has chosen to withdraw the writ petition, after having filed the same and submitted the writ petition to the processing that is required before it reaches the Bench, the petitioner could not be exempted from the costs that must inevitably be imposed on him for his conduct.

Accordingly, while dismissing the writ petition with the contempt that it deserves, the Court deemed it appropriate to impose exemplary costs of Rs 50,000 on the petitioner. It was directed that the petitioner shall pay this amount to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund, within two week from the order date, and produce a receipt of such payment before the Registrar General of the High Court, failing which, the said amount, together with interest thereon, shall be recovered from him through revenue recovery proceedings. [Jyothish G. v. State of Kerala, WP(C) No. 9115 OF 2020, decided on 20-03-2020] 

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