The Delhi Government Thursday assured the Delhi High Court that no coercive action will be taken against liquor retailers for the time being for not paying the licence fees under the Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22.
The Delhi government gave the oral assurance during the hearing of pleas by over 16 retail liquor traders, who are successful bidders for licences for the operation of retail liquor vends, seeking to declare the decision of the Delhi government to levy licence fees with effect from November 1, 2021, as illegal.
Delhi government, represented through senior advocates A M Singhvi and Rahul Mehra, said no precipitate action will be taken against the traders for now since they are partners in the business.
Mehra said a proper note, as asked by the court earlier, could not be filed due to an inadvertent error and it will be done within two days.
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In view of the assurance given, Justice Rekha Palli listed the matter for further hearing on November 15 and added, “I hope you will abide by your statement”.
The high court on November 9 had asked the Delhi government to inform it about the number of liquor brands where MRPs are fixed and those yet to be done under the Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22.
It had also asked the Delhi government to inform whether registration of any liquor brands has already been done.
On this, Mehra said out of the popular 30 brands, MRPs of 10 have been fixed and for another seven the process would be completed in the next two days.
The counsel told the court that a similar assurance has also been by the government before a division bench which is hearing pleas relating to challenge to the excise policy.
“As we have also told the division bench that this is not at all adversarial. These (liquor traders) are our business partners…,” he said, adding that the government also wants its policy to be as successful as other stakeholders want it to be.
During the hearing, the judge said, ”you (Delhi government) started the policy with such fanfare but these issues are yet to be ironed out. You should be a little pragmatic.” The petitioners are successful bidders of L-7Z (zonal licence for retail vend of Indian liquor and foreign liquor) and L-7V (retail vend of Indian liquor, foreign liquor in a zone).
The pleas also sought to restrain the government from demanding the sums of money in the form of licence fees or security deposit and also to direct the authorities not to levy or demand licence fees from the successful bidders until the government performs its obligations under the tender terms and conditions and the Delhi Excise policy 2021-2022.
It also sought to postpone the date for the scheduled commencement of business from November 17.
Senior advocates Maninder Singh and lawyer Tanmaya Mehta, representing the liquor retailers, had argued that the government cannot direct the petitioners to pay the licence fee with effect from November 1 as the payment of licence fee depends on commencement of business and that the authorities have not fixed the MRP of most of the brands and have no right to direct them to pay the fee.
One of the pleas filed by 15 retailers, through advocates Sanjay Abbot and Ankit Agarwal, said there has been a great delay in initiating the process of registration of brands and fixation of MRP by the Delhi Government under the 2021-22 policy.
It claimed that until October 30, not even a single brand had been registered within Delhi under the new excise policy, nor had the MRP been fixed or determined under the new policy.
It said the process from the determination of MRP to retail sale is a time-consuming exercise and if the scheduled date of commencement of business is November 17, being specified by the government, it is a complete breach of obligations on the part of the authorities in delaying the registration of brands and determination of MRP. Several petitions are pending before the high court against the New Excise Policy on the ground that it is illegal, unfair, arbitrary, and violative of the Delhi Excise Act, 2009.
In July, the court had refused to stay the new Excise Policy on one of the petitions which contended that the new regime would lead to a monopoly of the few big players.
The Delhi government, also represented through standing counsel Santosh Kumar Tripathi, has defended its New Excise Policy 2021, saying that the new regime would generate optimum revenue and ensure ease of doing business while eliminating cartelization, proxy players, and monopoly.