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Eligibility Criteria must be aptly interpreted: High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh at Jammu

Whether the interpretation of the petitioner pertaining to the clauses in question, was correct, was examined by the HIGH COURT OF JAMMU & KASHMIR AND LADAKH AT JAMMU, by a bench consisting of HON’BLE MR JUSTICE TASHI RABSTAN, in the matter of Viney Verma vs. Excise Commissioner & Ors. [WP(C) No.1738/2021], on 24.12.21.

The facts of the case were that the petitioner was declared as successful bidder for retail sale of liquor at a given location post the bid of rupees one crore and ninety two lacs, out of which he already deposited an amount of Rs.96 lacs, i.e., 50% of the bid value in terms of the excise policy. Accordingly, he was issued a license. After furnishing all the requisite formalities and depositing an amount of Rs.1.92 lacs as license fee equivalent to the bid amount, he had been conducting retail sale of liquor at the said premises. However, SDPO, City West issued a Corrigendum dated 13.08.2021, thereby cancelling the character certificate issued in favour of petitioner on the ground that the petitioner is involved in several cases registered at different police stations in Jammu District as well as Crime Branch and CBI. Acting on the said corrigendum, Excise and Taxation officer, City Excise Range, South, Jammu submitted a report to Deputy Excise Commissioner, Jammu dated 14.08.2021. Based on the said report, the license for sale of liquor vend issued in favour of petitioner was suspended with a further direction to him to submit the non-criminal antecedents certificate duly certified by the competent authority within fifteen days. Hence, the petitioner preferred the present petition.

The Learned Counsel for the Petitioner, Mr. U.K. Jalali, contended that out of the six cases registered against the petitioner, the petitioner has already been acquitted in three cases, whereas the other two cases are pending and the proceedings in last one has already been stayed by this Court and to this effect the petitioner has already given his affidavit. Therefore, no question arises for suspending the license of petitioner for sale of liquor merely on the basis of corrigendum issued. It was further argued that once the competent authority after verification of the record had issued the license for operating the liquor vend in question and obtained the bid amount of Rs.1,92,00,000/-, at this stage the petitioner cannot be deprived of reaping the benefits of said license, which otherwise to remain in operation for one year from the date of its issuance.

The Learned Counsel for the Respondents, Mr. K.D.S. Kotwal, objected, mentioning that Clause 2.4.3 of the Excise Policy clearly provided that the bidder should not have criminal antecedents. It was argued that since SDPO, City West, in his Corrigendum dated 13.08.2021 has clearly mentioned that the petitioner is involved in several cases registered at different police stations in Jammu District as well as Crime Branch and CBI, as such the respondents have no option but to suspend the liquor vend of petitioner thereby giving him opportunity to submit the noncriminal antecedents certificate duly certified by the competent authority.

The Honourable High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh at Jammu, taking into account the facts and arguments put forth, as well as the evidence produced, observed that Clause-2.2.1 of the Excise Policy 2021-22 clearly provides that the licenses for operating liquor vends shall be granted strictly in-accordance with the provisions of the J&K Excise Act, Svt. 1958, whereas Clause-2.4.3 regarding eligibility criteria clearly provides that the bidder should not have criminal antecedents; meaning thereby the excise policy 2021-22 does not allow participation of persons with criminal antecedents. But, in the present case, the petitioner has himself admitted that there were six criminal cases registered against him, out of which remains accused in three and acquitted in three. The Court held that the petitioner must have furnished the requisite documents as directed instead of approaching the Court, thus declaring that the present writ petition has been prematurely filed. The Court also held that the petitioner had wrongly interpreted the clause, and accordingly directed him to produce the mentioned non-criminal antecedents certificate, fulfilling the requirement.

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Judgement reviewed by Bhargavi

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