lurking fear of a rerun of Jessica Lal murder case

The murder took place at Qutub Colonnade restaurant when a politician’s son fired at her for not meeting the demand that she serve him liquor at that late hour.

Published: 07th February 2022 07:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th February 2022 07:39 AM   |  A+A-

Jessica Lal

Jessica Lal was shot dead my Manu Sharma in 1999.

On the first working day of this year, that is January 3, 2022, the national capital was brought to a grinding halt by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), protesting against the new excise policy of the Delhi city government. Those on roads that much cursed city’s opposition for having taken up an ‘irrelevant’ issue.

For Delhi government, which often spends beyond its income, a liberal excise policy help to keep the cash box clinging. With the Municipal Corporation polls round the corner, BJP has drawn a strategy to up the ante on the liquor issue and oppose Delhi Government’s liberal excise policy.

The new excise policy has a social context and a social concern too. Would it see a rerun of 1990s when the liquor propelled studs ran amuck in the city? There were several instances like the infamous BMW case, Jessical Lal case, which all had a late night liquor party as part of the script.

The Kejriwal government has moved out of liquor sale licensing out 849 liquor vends to private firms through open tendering under its new excise policy. So far, over 550 liquor stores have been opened in many parts of the city while rest are coming up.

Some of these liquor shops, however, have come up in close proximity to educational institutions and places of worship. The municipal corporations of Delhi, which are controlled by the BJP, have closed down several liquor shops over alleged violations of Master Plan and other norms.

It’s just not about the opening of new liquor vends but also serving liquor liberally at the licensed premises. The new excise policy entails that there will be no need of having temporary P-10 licence for serving liquor at weddings, parties and other such events at licensed premises of banquet halls, farm houses, motels and similar venues.

The need for P-10 licence will be replaced by an L-38 licence for one year that will be given on payment of a fee ranging from `5-15 lakh depending on the size of the licensed premises.It just doesn’t end there as premises including farm houses, banquet halls, motels and other party venues having L-38 licence will be allowed to host any type of entertainment activities such as live singing performances by professionals, dancing, and karaoke and live bands.

The makers of this law probably have forgotten about the Jessica Lal case which shook the city’s conscience. Jessica Lal, a model by profession, was working as a celebrity barmaid at a crowded socialite party when she was shot dead at around 2.00 in the morning on April 30, 1999.

The murder took place at Qutub Colonnade restaurant when a politician’s son fired at her for not meeting the demand that she serve him liquor at that late hour. Enquiry conducted by the police had revealed that the party, which was claimed to be a farewell function for fashion-designer Bina Ramani’s husband, George Mailhot, was in fact open to anyone willing to pay and get in.

Bina Ramani had redeveloped the premises Tamarind Court, from where the restaurant functioned, and where the party and the murder took place. While justice was done in the case after a prolonged legal battle and citizen protests, the fact remained that the murder took place at a party where liquor flowed freely.

While the party that night was illegal under the prevailing laws, the Kejriwal government’s excise policy would make such parties into legal gatherings. More than the BJP, it’s for the civil society of the national capital and elsewhere to take a call on the matter, lest the ghost of Jessica Lal returns to haunt the city. 

Author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice



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