Delhi High Court refuses to stay private retail licences for retail sale of liquor

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday refused to stay a circular dated September 10 issued by the Delhi Government, by way of which the private retail licences for retail sale of Indian and Foreign Liquor were declared to be valid only till September 30.

“Change is inevitable. Excise Policy is no exception to this rule,” observed the Division Bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh, while hearing an application filed in a plea seeking extension of private retail liquor licences till November 16.

While stating that there is no substance in the instant application, the Bench noted, “It ought to be kept in mind that change is inevitable. Excise Policy is no exception to this rule. New experiments are always being permitted in matter of policy.”

The Court observed that there is neither any prima facie case in favour of the petitioner, nor will any irreparable loss be caused, if the stay as prayed for, is not granted.

“The public at large are not going to suffer at all because other licences have been extended and therefore, the public at large who wants to purchase liquor will have to move out of his or her comfort zone. Everything may not be available at the doorsteps, especially when there is a transformation of the policy from old to new,” added the Bench.

Advocate N.P. Singh, representing the petitioner, submitted that by circular dated September 10, the Government extended all other licences till November 16, while the private retail liquor licences have been extended only till September 30. He contended that such a decision is arbitrary and in violation of provisions of Delhi Excise Act, 2009.  

Per contra, senior counsels Dr. Abhishek Singhvi and Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi Government, inter alia pointed out that the Government has decided to discontinue in a phased manner old licenses given to private and public vends, with effect from September 30 and November 16 respectively, in an attempt to transit to the new system which has been put in place under the New Excise Policy for the year 2021-22. 

Arguing that the transition period will allow the new licensees to set-up shops, he submitted that the bidding process for grant of licenses for sale of liquor in the national capital has already completed and once a final decision is taken, ultimately private persons will become in-charge of sale and distribution of liquor in the city. In addition, he submitted that it is a policy decision under the new regime that the government will not continue with the sale and distribution of liquor. However, the Government will continue to regulate the sale.

The instant application has been filed in a plea filed by a private retail liquor licensee, seeking quashing of circular dated September 10, whereby in order to ensure smooth and uninterrupted supply of authorised liquor in Delhi, the Government extended the period of excise licences to public sector up to November 16, subject to payment of proportionate pro-rate licence fee. The plea alleged that the circular, however, extended the period of private retail licences for retail sale of Indian and Foreign Liquor till only September 30. The said decision, the plea contended, exhibit hostility towards private licensees viz-a-viz public sector licensee, which is impermissible as such an act is not only unreasonable, but also an arbitrary exercise of power vested in the licensing authority.The Bench, on September 20, sought response from the Delhi Government and the Deputy Excise Commissioner upon the plea and slated the matter for October 21.
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