The Madras High Court on an interim order on Friday ordered closure of State-owned TASMAC outlets in Tamil Nadu and told the Government to sell liquor online till May 17 when the extended lockdown will come up for review.
The court passed this order on a petition was filed by Kamal Hassan's political party Makkal Needhi Maiyyam office-bearer Mourya, an NGO. The petitioner Mourya favoured closure of the shops on the ground that they might lead to a further spurt in covid cases which have already reached a new high 6.000.
The court order followed a similar observation by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court asking all states to consider online sales.
When the PIL came up for hearing on the eve of the reopening of the shops after 44 days shutdown, the court made the same suggestion to sell liquor online.
However, the Tamil Nadu Government in its counter said it had no wherewithal to home deliver liquor on the basis of online orders. It also told the court that it had taken several measures like allotting time slots to buyers according to their age to avoid crowding. It also said it would ensure that social distancing was maintained before these shops and that not more than five buyers should be served at a time. It further said these shops would not be opened in hotspots, besides Chennai which has the highest incidence of Covid cases in the State.
Satisfied with these assurances, the court refused to pass an interim stay. It however would closely monitor the sales and it would not hesitate to order closure if there was stampede
The Government followed all the conditions imposed by the court by rationing the liquor quota at one bottle of hard liquor per head every three days that too on production of aadhar card.
The police also put up barricades in front of all the shops in the State. The drinkers also scrupulously followed the queue and kept safe distance from one another as they did not want to give any room for reason for another closure.
The court felt that social distancing was not observed and ordered temporary closure of the shops again, till May 17 when final orders will be passed on the petition.
The interim order is a victory for the anti-liquor lobby as well as women activists who held demonstrations in some places. The DMK and its allies held a black flag demonstration though on a low key, saying opening the shops at this juncture might trigger social transmission, and the sale of liquor would further burden the poor who have no money and have no jobs.