Petitions against liquor prohibition for women deferred a fourth time | Sunday Observer

Petitions against liquor prohibition for women deferred a fourth time

Two cases that challenge a contentious Government directive inhibiting women’s ability to buy, sell and transport liquor, were postponed for a fourth time last Thursday.

The directive, Excise Notification No. 4/2018, was issued on January 18 by Minister of Finance and Mass Media, Mangala Samaraweera. It reversed his January 10 amendment to the 1979 Excise Notification 666, prohibiting women from working in bars and in restaurants that sell liquor without the explicit permission of the Excise Commissioner.

No. 4/2018 reintroduced prohibitions on women from the original excise notification of 1979, where “women can’t be employed for the manufacture, collection, bottling, sale or transport of liquor,” said Inshira Faliq, one of the attorneys appearing for Bhavani Fonseka and the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA).

On January 22, 2018, two cases were filed challenging No. 4/2018 on the basis that it violated fundamental rights: one by five female citizens including Fonseka, and another on behalf of the CPA and its Executive Director. Their hearing was originally scheduled for May 31, 2018, but got deferred to June 11, then again to July 16 and then to October 4 when the Supreme Court postponed the hearing until November 2, 2018.

One more petition challenging No. 04/2018, on behalf of 12 female social activists including actress Samanalee Fonseka, has been deferred at least once. The case, represented by Thamila Dinushi Perera, is scheduled for February 2019. In all three cases the petitioners cite Articles 10 and 12 of the Constitution. Article 10 entitles every citizen the freedom “to engage by himself or in association with others in any lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise.” Article 12 ensures that “all persons are equal before the law,” and stipulates that “No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds.”

In addition to the petitioners’ assertions that Excise Notification violates fundamental rights, they also raise questions about the economic impact on women seeking to own or work in restaurants. Faliq pointed out that a woman could technically serve alcohol in a restaurant under the notification, but only with the prior approval of the Excise Commissioner.

Women are not entitled to obtain liquor licences for restaurants and yet exceptions have been made because the regulations have never been strictly enforced.

Of the CPA’s cases (Bhavani Fonseka vs Mangala Samaraweera 33/2018) was the first case filed on the petitioners’ own behalf and in the public interest, while the CPA’s petition (34/2018) was filed after, in the public interest.

Fonseka and four other female citizens “went as affected parties,” she explains, because “there is also greater impact of those directly affected filing cases and having better standing before court.” 

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