J&K HC states that there is no fundamental right to do trade in liquor, licenses remain cancelled

The court passed directions for framing of new Excise Policy for 2021-2022, strictly in accordance with the Jammu and Kashmir Excise Act and the law laid down by the SC on the subject. The Court has also held that renewal of licenses for trade in liquor is not a matter of right, which can be enforced. For the purpose of renewal of licenses for trade in liquor, if permissible in law, all the conditions applicable for grant of a new license shall also be applicable, the Court said. 

The case in hand is not in isolation where rule of law has been kept aside and there is total arbitrary exercise of power. The court called it a ‘connivance’ of the Government to allow them to operate despite the orders of the court. “Connivance is also evident from the fact that the appeal was admitted on March 23rd, 2017 and there is nothing on record to show that any effort was made by the Excise and Taxation Department or the Law Department to get the matter expedited,” said the Court. 

The division bench comprising of of Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Sanjay Dhar gave the following reasoning for upholding cancellation of licenses: “The Supreme Court in numerous judgments has held that there is no fundamental right to do trade or business in intoxicants and the State under its regulatory powers has the right to prohibit absolutely every form of activity in relation to intoxicants-its manufacture, sale, possession, etc”.

They also stated that excise policies were framed from time to time in the most arbitrary and irrational manner, just to benefit those who had access to the corridors of power and without any focus on revenue generation.

The HC directed that the liquor vendors already operating shall be allowed to continue till March 31, 2021 and thereafter the license shall be allotted in terms of the Excise Policy to be notified by the Government for 2021-2022. The Government shall be at liberty to take appropriate steps in view of striking down of the provisions of the excise policies, which envisage grant and automatic renewal of licences for a period of five years. 

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