Indirectly favours ban on alcohol after enumerating its ills
Srinagar: The J&K High Court on Monday asked state government to revisit its liquor policy and indirectly favoured a complete prohibition on flow of booze in the state.
“I wish to commence this judgment recording my conviction about the universal truth that gross loss of unimaginable magnitude in intoxicants overweighs the little benefits in them, and that there cannot be any good in something that covers minds, induces ruin in the biological beings and economy of a people, and reduces most of the consumers to abject penury (sic),” a bench of Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey said while disposing of eleven petitions relating to licences for retail sale of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL), popularly termed as JKEL-2 licence.
Four of the petitions had challenged Excise Commissioner’s 14 December 2005 notice for cancellation of the licence, as many others had sought regularisation of temporary licences while the rest had questioned government orders on sub-vending shops, debarring a 45-year-old woman from obtaining license for IMFL sale and selection criteria for allotting vends.
During 1996, the government, in a bid to proliferate the liquor trade, granted fresh licences to liquor vends following which three public Interest litigation were filed before the high court in 1999 by residents of the areas where the liquor vends had been opened or were likely to be opened.All theses PILs sought court’s intervention to direct the state to impose prohibition and discourage the policy of grant of licences for opening of liquor vends in the State.
On high court’s asking, the government took a policy decision on licensing of liquor vends and issued an order (No. 112-F of 2001) on 3 April 2001, laying down the policy 2001-2002 with thrust on denying request for issuing licences for manufacturing, stocking, sales (wholesale, retail, bars etc) and that any fresh licences should be issued only if justified by exceptional circumstances that too strictly in conformation to the provisions of the J&K Excise Act 1958 and J&K Liquor Licence and Sales Rules, 1984.
“Due regard shall also be given to the public sensitivities as also to the factors like public nuisance, environmental pollution etc,” it said.
No licences were issued till the government notified the Excise Policy 2003, recognizing the need for “restrictive and regulative trade in the liquor till the time it was considered appropriate to bring about a total prohibition.”
89 locations were put to notice on 22 September 2003 and 7781 applications were received by the excise department.
But before the applications could be processed, the Government of India convened a meeting of Excise Commissioners of all the States and a consensus was evolved for doing away with the system of public auction for granting licences.
Apart from 89 locations, government felt need to issue licences for 170 erstwhile liquor vends also. As many as 54 vends were found operating in 89 locations notified for grant of licences and the actual number of locations came to 205. While a huge number of applications was received, Excise Commissioner decided selection through draw of lots which took place on 27 February 2004. But before the process of formulation of the select list was concluded, some of the non-selectee-applicants challenged it in high court.
The government issued fresh orders in between and the matter finally went to Supreme Court which passed a detailed order, declaring that liquor vends were operable only for a year and no relief could now be granted to them with respect to the policy.
However, the Apex Court permitted the petitioners to raise issues before the high court.
“More than thirteen years have passed since then. The said policy recognised the need for restrictive and regulative trade in the liquor till the time it was considered appropriate to bring about a total prohibition,” the high court said.
However there was no headway as the matter remained pending in the court, the court said.
“Obviously, the Government and the official respondents have not been able to revise the liquor policy during these years. On the other hand, the petitioners, who were granted temporary licenses for four months which could be regularised to be operable, at best, for one year, have been continuing on such licenses for years now on Court orders merely because of pendency of these petitions,” the court said and directed government and official respondents to review its Excise Policy, “if they so feel” in view of the court’s directions in the PILs and taking into consideration “the Government’s recognition of the need for restrictive and regulative trade in the liquor till the time it was considered appropriate to bring about a total prohibition.”
In that case, the court kept it open for the authorities to undertake a fresh exercise to identify the locations for continuing or opening of retail vends “in accordance with any such policy as may be adopted.”
“The official respondents shall undertake and complete the requisite exercise by the end of the current financial year, i.e., 31.03.2017, and issue fresh licenses to the selectees for the year 2017-2018 operative with effect from 01.04.2017. In case the present vendees have not paid the annual fee and other dues for the current or any other previous year, he shall deposit the same with the Excise Department before closure of the present financial year,” it said.
In 2015, a division bench of high court refused to ban sale and consumption of liquor in the Muslim majority state.
“This court is of the view that the direction to enforce prohibition, as prayed for in this petition, cannot be ordered as the state has taken the stand that it is not possible to enforce strict prohibition by stating various reasons,” the court had said while disposing of a PIL filed by Karwan-e-Islam, a religious organisation.
The government had claimed that the complete ban on sale of the alcoholic beverages could cost Rs 800 cr to state exchequer annually as well as 6000 jobs and freight loss to 15000 vehicles associated with the trade.