NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Friday asked states to consider non-direct contact or online sales and home delivery of liquor during the lockdown period to prevent the spread of coronavirus on account of crowding at the shops.
A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and B R Gavai, hearing the matter through video conferencing, disposed of the plea challenging the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on May 1, allowing sales of liquor through direct contact during the lockdown period.
"We are not inclined to entertain this petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. The petition is dismissed. However, it shall be open for the concerned State Government to consider non-direct sale including on-line sale/home delivery of liquor to facilitate social distancing," the bench said.
During the hearing, advocate Sai Deepak, appearing for petitioner Guruswamy Nataraj, argued that there are 70,000 liquor vends across the country and over five crore people have till now purchased liquor from these shops.
He said that due to social distancing norms not being followed at the liquor vends and shops, there has been a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Deepak contended that the results, which have been achieved in over a month-long nationwide lockdown will be nullified as the coronavirus graph, which was earlier flattening, is now showing a sharp rise.
He sought the issuance of fresh MHA guidelines or directions for the prohibition of the sale of liquor at vends and shops through direct contact during the lockdown period or till the National Disaster Management Authority announces India to be Covid-19 free.
To this, the bench said that discussion is already going on for allowing online sales of liquor or its home delivery.
Deepak said he only wanted that life of a common man should not be affected due to this direct sale from vends and MHA should issue clarificatory guidelines and states should abide by it.
The bench then directed the state to consider online sales or home delivery of liquor during the lockdown period and disposed of the matter.
The plea, filed through advocate Anindita Mitra, said that media reports indicate that social distancing norms at and around the liquor vends/shops are being given a complete go-by in these areas, leading to alarming situations.
"The health and safety of all persons who gather at and around the liquor vends/shops, the personnel of the liquor vends/shops, the police officials who have to be deployed and intervene, passers-by and the public at large is being endangered and jeopardized, increasing the scope for further transmission of Covid-19 amongst the population," it said.
Reopening of liquor vends/ shops, which rely wholly on direct contact sales to the consuming public, is resulting in unmanageable crowds, leading to the high risk of transmission and spread of Covid-19 due to difficulties in managing physical distancing during such sales, apart from serious issues of maintenance of law and order, the plea said.
It sought directions to Centre for the formulation of guidelines for allowing non-contact sales of the liquor.
On May 1, the MHA has issued fresh guidelines while announcing a "limited" lockdown which includes suspension of air, train and interstate road travel for two more weeks from May 4 across the country, but some activities were allowed after classifications of districts into 'Red', 'Orange' and 'Green' zones based on COVID-19 risk profiling.
According to the health ministry, there are 130 'Red' zones in the country with a maximum of 19 in Uttar Pradesh, followed by 14 in Maharashtra in the country.
The number of 'Orange' Zone is 284 and 'Green' is 319. All the districts of the national capital have been put under the 'Red' zone.
As per the new guidelines, sale of liquor, paan, tobacco to be allowed after ensuring minimum six-feet social distancing; not over 5 persons at one time at a shop.
These shops should not be located in markets and malls in urban areas.
However, consumption of liquor, paan, gutka, and tobacco, is not allowed in public places during the lockdown.