Delhi High Court: A Division Bench of Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Sangita Dhingra Sehgal, JJ., while addressing a petition beseeched the GNCTD and Central Government to take a decision with regard to overcrowding of liquor shops in NCT of Delhi at earliest so that more damage is not caused.

Public Interest Litigation sought direction to —

  • GNCTD to immediately stop the sale of liquor in NCT of Delhi and not to allow the sale of same till situation with regards to COVID-19 becomes prevalent.
  • direction to respondents while allowing sale of liquor, ensure social distancing norms of 6 feet between each customer and presence of only five persons at one time at the shops across the State of NCT of Delhi where alcohol is being sold; alternatively
  • GNCTD to allow online sale and/or home delivery of alcohol, to prevent crowding in purchase thereof.

Senior Standing Counsel for the Union of India submitted that Supreme Court of India had left it open to the State Government  concerned to consider the non-direct sale including online sale/home delivery of liquor to facilitate social distancing.

One of the contentions placed in the PIL was that, the solution of overcrowding problem at liquor outlets was to permit online sale of liquor and for home delivery and a direction should be issued to the GNCTD to devise a methodology.

Further he informed the Court that, Zomato has offered to participate in home delivery of alcohol.

Bench stated that, possibility of alcohol being snatched during transit cannot be ruled out. Also, possibility of home delivery of alcohol, distribution whereof till now is largely in the hands of State, would also increase the possibilities of adulteration of alcohol, also resulting in loss of life.

Another contention was with regard to increase in incidents of domestic violence on consumption of liquor, for which the Counsel made the following suggestions:

  • That deliveries should be against documents in proof of identity and age and record thereof should be maintained by the person/agency delivering.
  • That the packaging in which liquor is delivered should prominently display helpline numbers for victims of domestic violence as well as the legal drinking age and warning that “drinking of alcohol is injurious to health”.
  • That there should be a limit on the quantity of alcohol which can be delivered at home.
  • That it should also be ensured that the alcohol is not adulterated in transit inasmuch as loss of life by consumption of spurious liquor is a regular feature.
  • That the possibility of delivery of alcohol not only by existing liquor vendors but also by hotels and restaurants already licensed to serve alcohol should also be considered. It is informed that in several countries home delivery of cocktails is in vogue.
  • That time of distribution and delivery of alcohol should be fixed keeping in view the security concerns and the possibility of domestic violence.
  • Record of all persons coming in contact with the delivery personnel should be maintained, to facilitate contact tracing in the event of need.

On DTTDC’s submission of not all vends being permitted to re-open, Counsel for GNCTD stated that all the vends could not be permitted because of restrictions in force in view of directions placed by Centre and State Governments are not entitled to provide for relaxation to any of the measures.

Counsel’s for GNCTD and Union of India stated that they are looking into the matter of online sale of liquor and would take a decision in that regard.

Bench stated that,

“…delay on the part of the Central Government and the GNCTD can exacerbate the problem of crowding outside liquor shops and would defeat the purpose, inasmuch as more the delay, more will be the number of persons outside liquor shops, each day, who will come in close contact with each other, increasing the probability of spread of Covid- 19.”

Court also observed and  raised a question that,

“Why all the liquor vends already existing in the city cannot be opened up and which will automatically reduce crowding outside the limited number of shops which are open at present”

“…considering the location and position of most of the liquor vends in the city, it is not possible to maintain social distancing as has been prescribed and the instructions stated to have been issued will not serve any purpose and will remain on paper only.”

With regard to online tokens, Court stated that,

Online issuance of e-tokens for purchase of liquor has not met with much success owing to the token holder thereof still being required to spend considerable time at the shop and which leads to crowding.

Thus, bench while disposing of the petitions stated that Courts cannot take any decision with regard to the above or give any directions as the matter is in the ambit of Executive but the counsels have been heard and GNCTD and Central Government are informed to take decision with the inputs transpired from the hearing. [Ambrosia Foundation Society (Regd.) v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 580 , decided on 11-05-2020]

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