The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Madras High Court order of May 8 to close all state-run liquor shops in Tamil Nadu, with immediate effect, to enforce physical distancing amid the nationwide lockdown to rein in the coronavirus outbreak.

A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, SK Kaul and BR Gavai heard the state government’s contention that an indefinite closure of liquor shops would cause “grave” revenue and business losses. In its petition, government firm Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation, or TASMAC, accused the High Court of judicial overreach while highlighting that the ban order was passed the very same day the Supreme Court dismissed an identical call to close liquor shops across the country. The Madras High Court had allowed online liquor sales and home delivery.

Lawyer Yogesh Kanna, appearing for the state government, said the Supreme Court issued notices to those who had filed the petitions in the High Court seeking closure of the liquor outlets in the state.

The judges observed that it was for the state to take a call on liquor sales, News18 reported. The next hearing in the case will be after four weeks.

Residents in Tamil Nadu had lined up outside liquor outlets in the state as they opened after six weeks on May 7, ignoring all physical distancing norms. About 20 lakh litres of alcohol, worth Rs 170 crore, was sold in a day, according to several reports. Huge crowds were also seen outside liquor shops in other parts of the country, sparking fears of the spread of infection.

Tamil Nadu replaced Gujarat as the second worst-hit state due to the coronavirus pandemic on Friday. The state has recorded 9,674 coronavirus cases and 66 fatalities, according to the figures from the health ministry.

Delhi HC seeks government stand on 70% extra tax on alcohol

Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court on Friday sought the response of the Aam Aadmi Party government on petitions challenging the 70% extra tax on liquor in the national Capital.

A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar issued a notice to the Delhi government and sought its response by May 29. The petitions seek setting of the May 4 notification imposing the tax, dubbed “special corona fees”.

One of the petitioners, Lalit Valecha, said that the court declined to grant any interim stay on the notification till it receives the state government’s response. Valecha, a lawyer, argued in his petition that the “special corona fee’’ was in excess of what has been authorised by law and that it was being collected arbitrarily.

Delhi government standing counsel Ramesh Singh accepted the notice on behalf of the administration and said a detailed reply would be filed on why the tax imposed was valid.