The Madras High Court on Friday ordered the closure of all state-run liquor outlets in Tamil Nadu, a day after they reopened following easing of COVID-19 lockdown curbs, saying there was total violation of guidelines, but allowed door delivery through online mode.
Noting there were huge crowds before shops and no social distancing was maintained, a bench of Justices Vineet Kothari and Pushpa Satyanarayana passed the order on a miscellaneous petition filed by advocate G Rajesh, besides a plaint from Kamal Haasan-led Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM).
The bench said there was total violation of its interim order issued on Wednesday, when it declined to stay a government order allowing resumption of sale of liquor through the latter's outlets.
Besides the guidelines issued by the state government and the TASMAC, the sole retailer of liquor in Tamil Nadu,
were also violated, it said.
However, the court allowed online sale of liquor and door delivery till the lockdown to check spread of coronavirus was over.
The court likened the rush at TASMAC stores to the situation that prevailed at Koyambedu wholesale market, which has turned out to be a major hotspot.
"The state had already witnessed the mad rush to Koyambedu Wholesale Market, which has housed the wholesale shops for the sale of vegetables, fruits and flowers, when the lockdown was announced. Social and physical distancing norms were violated and the ramifications of the same were realised only after three-four days," said the order.
"In such circumstances, the state government thought it fit to close down the said market in its original location and has temporary makeshift market in three different places outside the city of Chennai. While so, when this Court passed the order including the above changed conditions, before opening of the TASMAC shops, the said conditions were flouted, breaching the norms prescribed by the Disaster Management authorities also," it added.
Soon after the judgment, the state government decided to move the Supreme Court, hoping to leverage an apex court order against such closure in another state.
Officials at Haasan's party office hailed the high court's decision as a people-centric one.
"Huge victory for people and the Makkal Needhi Maiam. The High Court has stopped the sale of liquor in a case filed by MNM," said party general secretary CK Kumaravel in a tweet.
After a dry spell of 43 days due to the COVID-19 lockdown since March 24, liquor sales resumed at TASMAC outlets in Tamil Nadu, except Chennai, on Thursday.
Heavy rush was witnessed at most places with people standing in serpentine queues even as the move to allow sale of liquor came in for flak from opposition parties and others, who raised apprehensions it would lead to further spread of the coronavirus, which as of Friday has affected over 6,000 people in the state.
On Wednesday, the bench had directed the government to ensure strict implementation of all appropriate rules, as notified by the state, including maintenance of social distancing at liquor shops while allowing the resumption.
When the matter came up on Friday, petitioner Rajesh submitted there was a total violation of the guidelines framed as per G.O. No 223 of May 5 and also the norms stipulated by TASMAC and the court.
While submitting some photographs and visuals of media reports, he said: "It is reported through visual media that
officials of TASMAC and as well as the Police officials were unprepared to manage overcrowding at the shops."
The state government had earlier decided to open the liquor retail outlets, citing centre relaxing the lockdown norms in this connection, besides pointing out at tipplers in border districts making a beeline to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka where the liquor sales resumed on May 4.
(With inputs from PTI)