Madhya Pradesh High Court Issues an Interim Order for Liquor Traders in Madhya Pradesh

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The Madhya Pradesh High Court issued an interim order in the case of Maa Vishno Enterprise v. the State of Madhya Pradesh. The order provides an option to either renew/continue or surrender their licenses.

Brief Facts Of the Case

The Central Government imposed a nation-wide lockdown since the end of March. The orders permitted only essential commodities’ shop to operate. As the lockdown advanced, the Government allowed certain traders to open shops. However, this was only for specified hours. It brought down the business hours for liquor shops to less than six hours whereas bars remain shut.

Later, the cash-strapped State Government demanded revenues under excise. This was to raise money in the lockdown period. But, the liquor cartel wanted to start trade on revised terms.

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The restrained operations had caused huge financial losses to the liquor traders. Hence, they refused to reopen their shops unless the excise department reduced license fee. The State Government hiked the liquor prices by 10%. To no avail, the contractors refused to open the shops.

The traders moved to the Madhya Pradesh High Court as the government failed to negotiate. The Court reprimanded the government against taking any coercive action. But, the liquor contractors filed a petition alleging contempt of Court. The State Government had issued notices. They had also confiscated the bank guarantee amount of some contractors.

Contentions of the Petitioners

The petitioners expressed disappointment due to the 70-day lockdown. Also, the government coerced traders to resume business under all restrictions.

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The vendors experienced slag in the business. The reduced hours, day-light operations and shut-down of bars and restaurants leashed the situation. The counsel sought directions for the State Government to either revise the terms or recall the bidding in the current fiscal year. Moreover, it was also submitted inter alia, that few petitioners were ready and willing to continue. But they would continue under prevailing terms.

Court’s Analysis

The Court took notice of the adverse effects of the lockdown in the current scenario. But, it did not interfere in the policy matters of the state. The State Government is entitled to invite fresh applications and re-auction the shops.

The contractors willing to trade under current circumstances will have to file an affidavit. They should do this within the stipulated period. The remaining petitioners will have to surrender the licenses. The Court is yet to decide on the recovery of dues from petitioners whose shops would be for re-auctioning.

Held

Chief Justice A, K, Mittal and Justice V. K. Shukla issued an interim order. The Court will issue a final order on June 17, 2020.

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The Court provided an ultimatum to the petitioners. It ordered the contractors to continue the business status quo or surrender their licenses. The Court assured that the government will not penalize on surrendering the license.

The State Government has constituted a Group of Ministers. This group would be under the chairmanship of Narottam Mishra, Minister of Home and Public Health. It will look after the implementation of the excise policy. Moreover, it will also take immediate policy decisions in the due course.


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