SC rejects Meghalaya government’s plea against lottery ban

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In a recent legal development, the Supreme Court of India has rejected the plea submitted by the Meghalaya government challenging the ban on its lottery by various states. As reported in Bar and Bench, the bench, comprised of Judge Abhay S Oka and Judge Ujjal Bhuyan, set a precedent by upholding that matters pertaining to human liberty take precedence over revenue-generating activities such as lotteries.

Initially, the bench considered listing the matter in September for an interim relief hearing. However, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing the State of Meghalaya, pressed for an expedited resolution, emphasizing the significant impact on the state’s revenue. Judge Oka, in response, made a poignant remark, stating, “We have matters of human liberty that are more important than lottery!”

Despite Rohatgi’s persistence, the Court listed the case for directions after two weeks. It instructed the respondents to file statements regarding whether they need to submit or record any evidence in the case. The Court’s decision to prioritize the preservation of human liberties serves as a testament to its role as the guardian of individual rights in a democratic society.

The essence of the case revolves around Meghalaya’s challenge against Section 5 of the Lotteries (Regulation) Act, empowering states to prohibit the sale of lottery tickets organized by other states. The Meghalaya government argues that such provisions infringe upon its constitutional rights and impede its ability to conduct business under Article 298(b).

The top Court had ruled in May last year that the suit is maintainable and cannot be dismissed at the threshold. It observed that in light of earlier judgments, the court could read down or interpret the statutory provisions effectively to address the grievances of Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Sikkim. These states allege that the provisions of the Act of 1998 infringe on their right to do business.

During earlier hearings, the Supreme Court had questioned whether a State banning goods from another State was permissible in a federal structure. The counsel for the Central government argued that lotteries are a form of gambling and could be prohibited by State legislatures as a matter of policy.

The rejection of Meghalaya’s plea signifies the Court’s commitment to due process and a thorough examination of the constitutional validity of the contested provisions. Moreover, acknowledging the constitutional implications surrounding the regulation of lotteries organized by different states underscores the intricate balance between federal and state powers in India’s governance structure. The SC’s engagement with the legality of states’ authority to ban goods from other states within a federal framework is poised to provide clarity on this complex issue with far-reaching implications.