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This article is written by Jigyasa Fonia.      

Introduction: Supreme Court asks states to consider online sale of liquor

The sudden outburst of a disease named Coronavirus which is also known as COVID -19, has affected our lives severely. It has not only affected our everyday lives but also changed the way we comprehended our world. The nation in light of the pandemic situation had to take some decision to contain COVID-19 in India. So, India took a huge step on March 24, on the advice of health experts, that the entire country will be subjected to complete lockdown. The lockdown was for three weeks in which no was allowed to step out of their houses except for buying food and essentials. After three weeks of comprehensive lockdown, Prime Minister of India announced an extension of lockdown as several cases and death toll aroused. During the two lockdowns 1.3 billion people lived in isolation to stop the spread of the deadly virus and stepped out of their homes only in emergencies. After two successive lockdowns, India’s people thought that maybe this time the lockdown will be lifted but it was again extended as the situation went out of control and reported cases crossed 40,000.

India classified their districts into three zones that are- Red, Orange and Green. With these three zones comes containment zones to contain the spread of the deadly virus. The third lockdown was different from the two other lockdowns as it provided relaxation in certain areas. In the third lockdown, the government allowed people to buy alcohol in all the three zones except in the containment zones but with advice that social distancing must be followed. After this announcement, people rushed to the liquor store the next day and because of the gathering of people in large numbers commotion erupted. There were long queues outside the liquor shops and people were standing close to each other. Liquor shops were closed in some places as people were not following social distancing rules. Seeing all this chaos, Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was moved in the court against the decision of the government to open liquor shops which contended that this created ruckus in the states and can also jeopardize the efforts taken so far to contain the virus.

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On 8th May, the Supreme Court dismissed the PIL to halt the sale of alcohol across the country but took into consideration the perspective of selling liquor online to maintain the social distancing norms. The Supreme Court passed an order in which it was said that the state should consider online sales as well as home delivery of liquor in light of the pandemic situation. As of now only few states like Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have allowed the online sale of liquor whereas there are few states which have banned the sale of liquor while others are still contemplating. During this time, The Delhi Government initiated an e-token system to dodge public gatherings in front of liquor shops.

In this system, people register and collect tokens to buy liquor from a close liquor shop. No one will get alcohol without this e-token and liquor shops have to abide by this system. This e-token will not only provide buyers with a time slot but also provides the address of a liquor shop from where they can buy liquor. At a time only five customers will be permitted inside the liquor shops with their masks on their face to ensure protection of people. Maharashtra also started this e-token system in Pune to test this system before deciding whether to introduce it on a larger scale or not. But eventually Maharashtra decided to opt the idea of home delivery of liquor in some areas to save people from the virus. The liquor industry also advised the government to permit online sale of liquor and home delivery too. They also demanded to permit delivery of liquor through the medium of food delivery apps like Zomato and Swiggy. So, states are in discussion with Zomato and Swiggy.
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Reasons behind the online sale of liquor

The third lockdown provided few relaxations and one of the relaxation was lifting the ban from alcohol. Liquor shops were allowed to open on May 4 in all the three zones apart from the containment zone and people were asked to firmly follow the social distancing norms. Long queues were seen outside the liquor shops as a large number of people gathered to buy liquor which ultimately resulted in commotion across states. People did not even follow social distancing while they were standing in the lines. Chalk circles were drawn for the purchasers to stand in but all social distancing efforts were foiled as people had gathered from early morning.

Seeing all this chaos, PIL was filed by people as they were afraid of the fact that their efforts will go in waste if the stay order is not passed on the sale of liquor. One of the PIL was filed by Guruswamy Nataraj, a citizen who wanted liquor shops to be closed across the country as the decision of opening liquor shops is attached to public threat also. Direct contact sale of alcohol will jeopardize all the efforts taken so far to contain the coronavirus. A three-judge bench heard the petition through video conferencing dismissed the petition and declined to pass any orders as it is a policy decision. However, the apex court also said that the state should consider an indirect sale or delivery liquor to maintain social distancing and contain the spread of the deadly virus in India. Keeping in mind the suggestion of the Court, the states started online sales by introducing an e-token system whereas in some states home delivery of liquor started.

The impact of coronavirus has not only affected people but also the Indian economy. As the whole nation is subjected to lockdown no one is supposed to step out of their house until and unless they are stepping out to buy food essentials or in case of emergency. Offices, colleges, schools and companies have been shut down to contain the spread of the virus. Hence, the Indian economy is going through a rough time because of businesses being shut down for more than a month. Liquor was prohibited in the first two lockdowns. On an average state was losing an estimate of Rs.700 crore a day. One of the primary sources of the state’s revenue is the sale and manufacture of liquor. And during this time when the Indian economy is facing unparalleled battering states want to mobilize more resources and the permitting sale of alcohol will help them in attaining their goals.

Liquor plays an important role in contributing a substantial amount to the national treasury of states and Union Territories excluding Bihar and Gujarat as both of them are dry states. Excise duty is charged on sale and manufacture of liquor and it is considered to be the second or third largest contributor to the category State’s Tax Revenue. So, in this pandemic situation where all businesses have been shut down an absolute prohibition on sales of liquor is counterproductive. Restarting sales of liquor would shore up the flagging economy which have been struck hard by the lockdown. Home delivery of alcohol was never done before. This provision is a big step taken by the government in light of this pandemic situation. 

Legal Provisions regarding online sale of liquor

Alcohol finds its place in the State List of the Indian Constitution under Entry 51 that makes ‘alcohol for human consumption’ a subject matter of states. It grants states the authority to charge duties on alcohol for human consumption. Article 47 of Directive Principles directs that the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health. Liquor bans are justified with the help of this article. Liquor laws and the drinking age are different all over the states as liquor is a subject in the State List. 

Selling liquor online is illegal in India until and unless laws are modified. Liquor finds its place in the State List of the Constitution and only states are authorised to sell alcohol as state levy taxes on liquor which eventually gives the government a lot of revenue. State Governments are the controller of Excise Taxes and Sale of liquor.

Critical Analysis

Allowing the sale of alcohol to recover the flagging economy was a good idea but it can aggravate violence too. During the lockdown, the sale of alcohol is an unwise decision as isolation is being practiced and it prompts to mental instability. Consumption of alcohol during this time may give rise to violence. Alcohol lessens reticence and ability to control emotions which may give rise to domestic violence. There is nothing to do much in lockdown as everything is on halt right now. This can incline people to excessive drinking as there are no restrictions and people have an ample amount of time.

Alcohol withdrawal and concomitant ills like suicides and substitution with toxic substitutes can pose a problem because of minimal access to healthcare facilities. Patients of alcohol withdrawing need continuous supervision and medication which patients won’t get as doctors are dealing with patients of coronavirus. And during this time going to hospitals is too risky as the patients who are in the hospital for check-up may get in contact with the virus. In crisis or like in major disasters people have a tendency to drink more if provided alcohol. If during this pandemic, people are drinking more than usual then people are getting prone to health problems. Heavy drinking to cope with stress and isolation may pose health problems.


Covid-19 has emerged to be a public threat globally as several people around the world have been severely affected by it. It is added to the list of earlier infectious disease outbreaks like the Swine Flu, the Avian Flu and Ebola. All these outbreaks try to bring our attention to the fact that it is important to value the relationship that we share among social life, environment and the animal for survival and to flourish. This pandemic is also teaching that preventive measures and social distancing measures are important to keep the virus under control. Till the time vaccine is not available we all have to fight for our survival.

Businesses in India are going through a tough time because of terrible losses which not only threaten their solvency but also operations and that too among smaller enterprises. Amid all of this government is trying real hard to contain the spread of the deadly virus. Sale of liquor was started to shore up the flagging economy as one of the primary sources of the state’s revenue is the sale and manufacture of liquor. But this was not that easy as people gathered in large numbers and did not follow social distancing norms. Petitions were filed against this decision of the government but the Supreme Court saw merit in the idea of online sale of liquor and asked the state to consider it amid lockdown. Many states have opted for this idea and some are still contemplating. Nothing is going to stop our life as pandemic comes and goes. We just have to understand the seriousness of this situation as there is life after all this. We are all in this together and will come out of this together. 

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