The Assistant Commissioner of Excise department, Delhi Government has on Thursday informed the Delhi High Court that the sale or consumption of liquor is not a fundamental right, but a privilege and the state have the authority to regulate its sale.
While opposing a batch of petitions which challenged its 4th May notification of levying a ‘special corona fees’ on liquor, the Delhi Government said that there was an element of privilege viz-a-viz sale/ dealing in liquor and the state is free to regulate it under the excise law, maintaining that its levying 70 percent ‘special corona fees’ on MRP of all alcohol brands are a price for grant of such privilege to the public.
In its reply submitted before the High Court on Wednesday, the AAP government stated that the Delhi Excise Act and the Rules framed thereunder, does empower the State Government to not only regulate the sale/purchase of liquor but also to formulate different rules which are specific to the regulation of liquor.
The Special Corona fee, which has been imposed during the unprecedented circumstances posed by the COVID19 is nothing but a combination of price towards the grant of privilege and the cost of regulation/supervision.
“That apart, cost of regulation and supervision in the form of regulatory and supervisory fee can also be charged under State Excise law for regulating and/ or supervising the various facets of sale, purchase, possession, etc of liquor,” Delhi government said in its reply. Besides Delhi, 10 other states, Assam, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal have imposed similar fees, it said.
The affidavit referred that owing to the clampdown on all economic activities due to coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown, the revenue of Delhi government (which primarily comes from VAT/GST collection, state excise, and stamp duty) has shrunk by almost 90 percent in April 2020 and the total collections dwindled to a mere Rs 300 crore as opposed to approximately Rs 4,000 crore in the corresponding month in 2019.
While highlighting that sections 26 and 28 of the Delhi Excise Act does not apply to the present case, the affidavit submits that the MRP of liquor is not being raised and the same is only being used as the basis for calculating the amount of the present Special Corona fee.
A batch of petitions was filed by advocate Lalit Valecha and Praveen Gulati, challenging the levy of ‘special corona fees’. In the present PIL, the Petitioner has argued that the bare reading of the said Section 26 does not contemplate generating revenue under a new category of ‘Special Corona Fee’. It is further submitted by the Petitioner that the government wrongfully invoked section 81 of the Delhi Excise Act to charge this new fee. It is claimed that section 81(2)(g) is merely a procedural and regulatory provision which derives its powers from the other substantive provisions of the Act. Since neither section 26 nor Rules 152 and 154 provide for any such category, the Petitioner submits, the Delhi Government cannot invoke section 81 to generate revenue under the head of ‘Special Corona Fee.’