Supreme Court questions logic behind Kerala’s new liquor policy
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday prima facie dubbed Kerala’s new liquor prohibition policy as “illogical” and asked the state not to shut down bars till the court heard a batch of appeals against the move.
The policy, which intends to shut down all bars except those in five-star hotels immediately as a first step towards total prohibition over 10 years, was to come into effect from Thursday.
Several of the state’s bar and hotel owners have challenged the policy before the Supreme Court.
In his preliminary remarks on the state’s policy, Justice Anil R Dave on Wednesday said, “I am a teetotaller, but we don’t see any logic behind it.”
The bench, which also has Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, directed the state not to enforce the policy till it heard the appeals on Thursday.
Bar owners had earlier approached the Kerala High Court, which admitted their pleas on September 3, but refused to give them any interim relief in the form of a stay.
Senior advocate Fali Nariman, supporting their cause, said the policy — which intends to phase out all liquor licences and impose total prohibition over 10 years — had no rational nexus to the objectives it sought to achieve.
It exempts 5-star hotels and clubs and government retail outlets from the policy, while hotels with 4-star or less ratings operating bars have been asked to shut down, he said.
“So now somebody staying in a 4-star hotel has to go to a roadside toddy shop to drink liquor, whereas somebody sitting in a five-star will not have any problem.”
Senior advocate CA Sundaram expressed fears that the policy, if effected, would lead to large-scale retrenchments of employees, as it will affect 312 bar restaurants whose licences were issued or renewed from April 1, 2014 for a year at a fee of Rs 25 lakh each.
The batch of petitions, filed through counsels Ramesh Babu, Romy Chacko and Radha Shyam Jena, argued that the state policy was discriminatory and in violation of the constitutionally enshrined principle of equality. They also argued that the state should first shut down its own liquor shops before asking private citizens to do so.
The new policy, unveiled on August 22, will have a big impact on the state’s revenues as Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country. The industry had contributed Rs 8,433 crore to the state kitty last fiscal year. Travel and tourism industry players have opposed the policy, saying it will dent Kerala’s image as a major tourism attraction.