Can’t promote drunkenness through discounts, Delhi govt tells HC | Delhi News

NEW DELHI: The Delhi government on Thursday defended before the Delhi High Court its decision prohibiting any rebate or concession given by retailers on the sale of liquor, saying it can’t promote drunkenness through discounts.
Senior Counsel appearing for the Delhi government urged Justice V Kameswar Rao, who was hearing a batch of petitions by several liquor license holders challenging the order prohibiting discounts, not to stay the operation of the February 28 order and contended that the discounts were given in a “sporadic manner” and being misused by those with “big pockets” to create a monopoly.
“Delhi can’t be the city for promoting drunkenness through discounts… This was being misused over and over and over again by attracting and luring people by absolutely unreasonable and strange discounting policy,” argued senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
“It was also used as a measure of monopolizing. We were not against discounts generally but when we found that in the last few months, by giving huge discounts, there was an attempt by a few with deep pockets to monopolise… These and other things are to be the reason why the decision was taken. It does not cross the border of perversity,” Singhvi said as he sought time to file a response on behalf of the Delhi government and stated that any interim order would be akin to a final order on the petition.
Senior Advocate Rahul Mehra, also appearing for Delhi government, said liquor cannot be sold below the MRP.
Justice Rao issued notice on the petitions and asked the Delhi government to file its response by Friday evening and directed that the matter be listed for further hearing on March 7.
The petitioners sought a stay on the decision on the ground that it was causing them an irreparable loss on account of the substantial decrease in their business.
“I’ll have it on Monday. Let’s balance the equities. Let us have their affidavit,” said the judge as he refused to interfere with the discount prohibition at this stage.
Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Sajan Poovayya, who represented several petitioners, argued that the Delhi government order was passed by the concerned authority without any jurisdiction and was perverse and arbitrary.
It is the petitioners’ grievance that even though the applicable excise policy and the tender expressly permit grant of discounts by the retail licenses, the Delhi government on February 28 prohibited the discounts without giving them an opportunity to be heard.
“Revenue was (being) earned for the State. Suddenly one day without any warning, an order is issued without any jurisdiction saying that there are crowds so discounts must stop, saying it is unhealthy market practices. Our sales have gone down by 75 per cent. Business has gone back to Uttar Pradesh and Haryana,” Rohatgi said.
He added that such discounts were in terms of the principles of free economy and the ground of “crowding” at the vends was irrelevant.
“Everything is functional now, schools to college to courts. This is a crowded country, what to do,” he remarked.
On February 28, the Delhi excise commissioner had passed an order discontinuing any discount or rebate on the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of liquor in the national capital.
The order referred to reports of large crowds at liquor stores as well as unhealthy market practices as the reason for the discontinuation of discounts and said that the vendors are indulging in promotional activities which is prohibited under the Delhi Excise Act.
In the plea filed by Bhagwati Transformer Corporation and others, the liquor license holders contended that the actions of the authorities are arbitrary, disproportionate, discriminatory and violative of their fundamental rights under Article 14 of the Constitution.
The plea said the decision of the government completely takes away the petitioners’ right to take business decisions with regards to discounts/ concessions/ rebate which the petitioners were otherwise empowered to take under the new Excise policy and tender documents.
The alleged plea that it appeared that the order has been passed “at the behest of certain influential persons who are losing market because of fair competition in terms of discounts”.