Delhi HC directs to set up a consultative group to examine feasibility of Bar timings

New Delhi [India], June 7 (ANI): The Delhi High Court recently directed the Excise Commissioner and the Delhi Police Commissioner to constitute a consultative group to examine the feasibility of extending the operational timing of places of public entertainment up to 3 AM.

The High Court gave this direction on the petition moved by the National Restaurant Association of India alleging the interference by Delhi Police in the operation of their establishments. The petitioner sought a direction restraining the Delhi Police from interfering with the operation and running of restaurants and bars by the constituents of the petitioner till 3 AM.

Justice Yashwant Varma observed, "It would be expedient to direct the Excise Commissioner as well as the Commissioner of Police to constitute a consultative group which may examine the feasibility of extending the operational timing of places of public entertainment up to 3 AM.

"The joint consultative group may complete the aforesaid exercise within a period of two weeks from today and its report be placed on the record of these proceedings," the court said in the order of June 3, 2022.

It may be observed that while the court does not intend to stand in the way of the Excised Department framing a policy or the exercise of power flowing from the Act and the Rules, that would necessarily have to be tempered by and harmonised with the authority of Delhi Police to regulate the operation timing of eating houses and places of Public entertainment as conferred by the 1978 Act and the Regulations framed thereunder, the court order reads.

The bench also observed, "Bars or any establishment where liquor and intoxicating substances are served and to which members of the public may be admitted would clearly fall within the ambit of the above.

Since the operation of those outlets and venues would undoubtedly have a bearing on issues such as the security of the public, and the issue of maintenance of law and order, it would not only have been expedient but the law itself would mandate a joint and consultative deliberation between the authorities of the Excise Department and the Delhi Police before directives such as those incorporated in Paragraph 5.1 (ii) are framed."

Delhi Police filed a status report stating the details of challans for drunken driving issued in the last two years as also the number of road accidents that have taken place. It was submitted that the issue of opening bars and other places where liquor may be served has an indelible connection with the issue of public order.

According to learned senior counsel for Delhi Police, it was bearing the aforesaid facts in mind and upon due consideration of the security of the public and maintenance of law and order that Delhi Police has prescribed the outer limit to be 1 AM. It was also stated that view of disclosures made in the status report it would be imprudent to increase their operational timing up to 3 AM.

On the other hand, Santosh Tripathi, Standing Counsel for the Delhi government submitted that Rule 55 of the Delhi Excise Rules, 2010 empowers the Excise Commissioner to specify the hours that may be maintained by outlets and licensees for the sale of liquor. It was also submitted that in order to give an impetus to licensees, and bring the operational hours of liquor vends in sync with those of neighbouring States, the policy had permitted bars to operate till 3 AM.

The court observed, "It appears that the Delhi Police was neither consulted before the inclusion of the prescription with respect to timing in the Excise Policy nor was the order passed by the Delhi Police on 10 December 2020 taken into consideration. It would have been expedient for the excise authorities as well as GNCTD to have elicited the views of the Delhi Police before holding out that bars in HCR's would be permitted to operate till 3.00 A.M."

On the last date of hearing the court had asked, "whether the prescription of the timing of liquor vends as contained in the Excise Policy was one which was framed with due consultation with the Delhi Police. A short affidavit has been filed by an Assistant Commissioner, Excise.

On perusal of the affidavit, the court noted that the department failed to deal with the queries which were addressed.