People leave after purchasing liquor from a wine shop during the third phase of the COVID-19 lockdown
People leave after purchasing liquor from a wine shop during the third phase of the COVID-19 lockdown

In a major respite for liquor shops, the Bombay High Court has extended the deadline for them to pay the license fees from April 30 to June 1, 2020. The HC, while extending the deadline, considered the fact that the business of the liquor shops have been almost zero due to the CoVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.

A bench of Justice Nizamoodin Jamadar was dealing with a plea filed by the Hotel and Restaurant Association Western India, challenging the January 30 notification issued by the commissioner of the state excise department.

By virtue of this notification, issued under the Maharashtra Potable Liquor (Periodicity and Fees for grant, renewal or continuance of a licence) Rules, 1996, the excise department had initially proposed to hike the licence fees.

The government, in March, had granted these liquor shops the facility to pay the renewed fees amount in three installments, with the last one scheduled in December 2020.

The notification and the proposal was vehemently opposed by the association, which forced the government to withdraw its initial proposal.

Subsequently, the government issued a new notification on April 13, ordering the liquor shops to pay the fees as per the old rates. However, the deadline to pay the fees was set as June 1.

The association took exception to this new notification on the grounds that due to the extension of the lockdown, its members could not carry out their business as usual.

The government counsel opposed the request, arguing that it has given two options to the members of the association: either to pay in one single installment as per the old fee structure or pay the hiked fees amount in three installments.

Having considered the submissions, Justice Jamadar noted that the liquor industry could not operate its business as usual owing to the lockdown.

"Evidently, in view of the lockdown measures, the business, in general, has come to a standstill. The members of the association may not be an exception," Justice Jamadar said.

"Since the government has graciously permitted the licence holders to pay the licence fees at pre-revised rate, on account of exigency of the situation, an extension of time till June 1, 2020 should be given to pay the licence fees at pre-revised rates," Justice Jamadar ruled.

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