Dismissing the petitions by individual hotels and restaurants; and associations representing such establishments seeking concessions on license renewal fees for vending foreign liquor citing Covid-19 pandemic, the Bombay High Court has imposed a total cost of Rs 9 lakh observing that businessmen claiming to be victims of the pandemic “was thoroughly irresponsible and amounted to mind-numbing insensitivity”.
A division bench of justices Gautam Patel and Madhav Jamdar dismissed the petitions observing: “We find it a submission of mind-numbing insensitivity for these foreign liquor vending hotels to put themselves on the same level as the true victims who fell to the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no legal — let alone fundamental — right established to have a FL-III license at all.”
The HC then imposed a cost of Rs 1 lakh each on nine petitioner-associations to be paid into the Chief Minister's relief fund.
The HC was hearing petitions demanding a fifty per cent reduction in the license renewal fee prescribed by the state government for selling foreign liquor at their hotels, bars and restaurants.
Association's counsel, Viraag Tulzapurkar, argued that they were allowed to operate only at 50 percent capacity at restricted business hours during the pandemic and hence they are entitled to a concession or an adjustment of the licence fees.
“The pandemic affected everyone. All businesses suffered. No exceptional prejudice was caused to the present petitioners. The petitioners’ right to conduct business is not absolute in a time of global distress,” noted the HC.
The court further said the pandemic was not the government’s fault. The government had responsibilities “far beyond the narrow commercial concerns of the associations and their foreign liquor vending business.”
The bench stressed that the government struggled with the mammoth task to provide essential services and commodities during the pandemic.
“The pandemic was not the fault of the government either. The government had a mammoth responsibility, far beyond the narrow commercial concerns of the Petitioners and their foreign liquor vending business. The Government was struggling with essential services and commodities; a class that emphatically excludes the Petitioners... “ added the court concluding that “The needs of the many will always outweigh the needs of the few.”
Advocate General pointed out to the court that 90% of the establishments have already paid the revised license fee. Of a total of 17,605 licenses, 16,683 licensees have paid full license fees for 2021–2022. Another 922 have paid 50%.
Expressing displeasure at the urgency shown by the petitioners in hearing this matter, the HC noted that many genuine petitions are pending. “Their cases are now delayed by this self-indulgent and self-serving foreign liquor vending hotels, in whose petition there is not a shred of merit, and some of whose contentions border on the outrageous.”
The court also was irked that “relevant material was suppressed” in the petitions, including “various concessions granted by the State Government and the fact of the number of similarly placed licensees who have paid”.
“But we believe it is time to send a firm signal that the time of the court is not to be taken for granted, nor should there be any attempt to gamble on litigation. When a court’s time is squandered on frivolous matters, there will be consequences,” added the court while imposing a total cost of Rs 9 lakh.