The Aam Aadmi Party-led government on Wednesday told the Delhi High Court that trade or consumption of liquor is not a fundamental right and the state has the authority to regulate its sale, PTI reported. The government was defending its move of imposing 70% extra tax on liquor, dubbed as ‘special corona fees’.

On May 4, the Delhi government imposed the additional tax on alcohol after several physical distancing norms were violated across the city, as liquor stores opened during the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus. Ten other states including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, among others also imposed similar charges.

The Delhi government filed an affidavit in response to a public interest litigation that was filed by advocates Praveen Gulati and Lalit Valecha, challenging the levy of the “special corona fees”. In his plea, Gulati sought quashing of the May 4 order, claiming that it is highly arbitrary, irrational and in violation of Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution.

In the petition, Valecha said that the 70% tax was in excess of what was authorised by law and was also being collected arbitrarily. The pleas have been listed for further hearing on Friday.

The AAP government highlighted that the maximum retail price of liquor has not been raised and the same was being used as a basis for calculating the amount of the “special corona fee”, Live Law reported. It said that levying 70% tax on the MRP of all alcohol brands is a price that people have to pay for getting such a privilege.

The Delhi Excise Act, 2009, and the rules framed under it empowers the state to regulate or supervise the sale, purchase and consumption of liquor in the national capital territory during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“A citizen, therefore, has no fundamental right to do trade or business in liquor or for that matter also to consume liquor,” the Delhi government said. “On the other hand, the state has the authority and jurisdiction to regulate [including prohibit totally or partially] such trade and commerce as well as to regulate the sale, purchase and consumption of liquor.”

The affidavit further said that economic activities were severely hit owing to the Covid-19 lockdown and the revenue of the Delhi government – that primarily comes from Value-Added Tax/Goods and Service Tax collection, state excise and stamp duty – had gone down by almost 90% in April 2020. The total collections were only Rs 300 crore, as compared to over Rs 4,000 crore in the corresponding month in 2019.

It said that between May 4 and May 25, the total sale of operational liquor vendors was Rs 187 crore. This is very less as compared to the revenue in May 2019, as the number of shops operational last year were around 800. The government said that as of now, only 40% of the liquor shops have been operational, owing to the lockdown restrictions.

The Delhi government said that between May 4 and May 25, the total excise revenue, including the “corona fee”, collected by the state is over Rs 227.44 crore. This also includes Rs 127 crore of special corona fees. In May 2019, the total revenue from liquor sales had amounted to Rs 425.24 crore.

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