SC upholds Kerala's policy to check booze

SC upholds Kerala's  policy to check booze

Tipplers in Kerala were left wringing their hands in despair as the Supreme Court upheld the state policy to restrict service and consumption of liquor at bars in 5-star hotels only.

The apex court bench comprising Justice Vikramjit Sen and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh on Tuesday dismissed the petitions challenging the Kerala liquor policy, while upholding the Kerala High Court judgement on the matter.

Under the policy, the sale and consumption of liquor at the bars in hotels below 5-star category is prohibited. While noting that Kerala holds a “dubious distinction” of accounting for 14 per cent of the national consumption of alcohol in a comparatively territorially small state which boasts of 100 per cent literacy, the court touched upon the societal implication of the free trade in alcohol. “Placing a moratorium on all hotels other than 5-Star hotels, therefore, is not a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution,” the bench observed.

“We find no illegality or irrationality with the intention of the state to clamp down on public consumption of alcohol,” it added. In the 39-page verdict, the bench upheld the contention of the state government that the policy did have a reasonable nexus with the object sought to be achieved, as the object of the policy, was to reduce the public consumption of liquor. “So far as this trade is concerned, Article 47 of the Constitution places a responsibility on every state government to at least contain, if not curtail, consumption of alcohol,” the bench said.

“We are happy. From now on, we will be going ahead very strongly with our anti-liquor campaign programmes,” said Excise Minister K  Babu. Only 27 five-star hotels’ bars in Kerala will be able to serve liquor.

In March, the Kerala High Court upheld the state’s liquor policy and dismissed a petition by the Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association. Following this, the hotel association approached the apex court.

Bar owner Elegant Binoy told reporters: “...the liquor policy of the state is an annual exercise and there are just three more months for this policy. From April 1, there has to be a new policy, so we will wait and see, and before that we will also sit down and discuss what other legal recourse is there before us.” In August 2014, the Oommen Chandy government announced that it was deciding to go in for total prohibition in 10 years and had issued a notice for closure to all 710 bars.

Liquor, however, will be available through 305 retail shops owned by the Kerala government. And, here too, 10 per cent of these shops would be closed down every October. Around 78 shops have already downed their shutters.

But the verdict is not conclusive in its political import. Alleged corruption in connection with bar licences had led to resignation of K M Mani as finance minister, while Babu is also facing graft allegations.
DHNS & Agencies

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