MP High Court Restrains State Govt From Taking Action Against Liquor Traders, Issues Notice For 'Contempt of Court'

The Madhya Pradesh high court here on Tuesday served a notice to the state government over action initiated against against 30 liquor contractors who filed an application seeking interim protection.

The High Court has issued notice of ‘Contempt of Court’ to several officials including the Excise Commissioner, Principal Secretary Commercial Tax Department and others and instructed them to appear before the court.

A division bench of Chief Justice AK Mittal and Justice VK Shukla also issued notices to principal secretary (Excise) and excise commissioner, he said, and added that the hearing will continue on Wednesday.

In the petition, the liquor contractors have sought direction from HC to the state government to either revise the terms and conditions of their liquor sale contract or recall the entire bidding process for the current fiscal in view of the downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the state government and liquor traders failed to decide amicably on the issue of re-opening of shops, the matter is now sub-judice at High Court.

Though the arguments from both the sides could not be completed at HC on Monday, the petitioners (traders) informed the court that despite assuring the court of not taking any action against them, the state government has initiated action by imposing penalty and issuing letters to encash bank guarantee.

The traders told the court that recently bank guarantee of a Mandsaur trader has been confiscated by the state government and several traders have been served noticed despite the court offering them immunity from action in the last hearing on May 27.

Alleging state government of not listening to their demands, the traders had downed shutters of their shops since May 26 and were protesting the state's move not to accept their demands of lowering licence fee in the wake of lockdown driven closure period of shops. The traders also cited practical hassles like fear of coronavirus spread if the shops open and fear of infection saying large numbers of distilleries are based in Covid-19 infected areas.

The state government, however, has issued different set of orders and circulars and even served notices to traders who did not open shops despite administration orders.The fresh orders also said the shops can be open from 7am to 9pm.

To add, Madhya Pradesh government relies heavily on petroleum products and excise revenue from liquor to generate revenue and as other sources of income have dried up amid the coronavirus induced lockdown.

However, around 20% of liquor store owners are functioning in Madhya Pradesh as majority of traders are embattled in a legal battle with the state government and amid this, the excise department had also threatened to cancel contracts of these liquor shops.

(With inputs from PTI)