Is some good news on the way for tipplers in ‘dry’ Gujarat? The Gujarat High Court on Monday rejected objections raised by the state government against a clutch of writ petitions challenging alcohol prohibition, arguing for right to privacy, life and personal liberty as a key contention and asserted that the pleas were indeed maintainable.
A division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav rejected the preliminary objection raised by Gujarat against the maintainability of the petitions challenging the prohibition on manufacture, sale and consumption of liquor according to the Gujarat Prohibition Act, 1949, and posted them for final hearing on merits on October 12.
The final hearing was posted for September 20 but postponed to October 12 after the Advocate General Kamal Trivedi sought time for the state to explore the option of challenging it in the Supreme Court. He said, “If at all the government is thinking of testing it before a higher court, it needs some accommodation.” To this, the Chief Justice snapped, “Who is stopping you from doing that? That is your right.”
The petitioners, represented by a battery of senior advocates, Mihir Thakore, Mihir Joshi, Devan Parikh and Saurabh Soparkar, had in the earlier June hearing challenged the dry law as “manifestly arbitrary” and as a violation of right to privacy, which has been recognised as a fundamental right according to a 2017 judgment of the Supreme Court in the KS Puttaswamy case.
They pointed out the challenge to the legislation before the Supreme Court was only to the limited extent of medicinal and toilet preparation. It was stated that the question of validity of prohibiting consumption of alcohol was not decided by the Supreme Court and so, the Gujarat High Court was competent to adjudicate the issue.
The petitioners also argued that the right to privacy was not recognized as a fundamental right in 1951 when the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the provisions in the prohibition law.
The petitions had variously argued that the provisions were “arbitrary, irrational, unfair, unreasonable, and discriminatory...and despite prohibition being in place for more than six decades, a steady supply of liquor continues to be available through an underground network of bootleggers, organised criminal gangs and corrupt officials”.
“With expanding interpretation of the right to life, personal liberty and privacy, as contained in Article 21 of the Constitution, a citizen has a right to choose how he lives, so long as he is not a nuisance to the society. The state cannot dictate what he will eat and what he will drink,” said a plea filed by one Rajiv Patel and two others.
At one point during the earlier hearing in June, the Advocate General Kamal Trivedi said, “This concept of right to privacy is not like a bull in a china shop. It is subject to reasonable restrictions based on social environment; otherwise tomorrow, somebody will say you should not harass me if I am taking drug and psychotropic substances within my four walls.”
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