Running dry: SC upholds Kerala liquor policy that prohibits sale of alcohol in bars

This New Year, Keralites will have to find ways to celebrate with their favourite drink at a five-star hotel or home instead of a local bar. The Supreme Court has upheld the Kerala government’s liquor policy that prohibits bars that are not in a five-star hotel from selling alcohol.
An apex court bench comprising Justice Vikramjit Sen and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh in their judgement pronounced on Tuesday said that petitions challenging the Kerala liquor policy are dismissed and the Kerala High Court judgement sustaining the liquor policy is upheld.
The liquor policy allows service of liquor at bars in five star hotels only. Under the policy, the sale and consumption of liquor at the bars in hotels below five star is prohibited.
The government had introduced the policy as part of its attempt to tackle the state’s alcohol-related problems. The state government aims to enforce total prohibition in 10 years. More than 300 bars will have to shut down because of this policy.
“We are happy that the Supreme Court’s division bench has upheld our decision. From now on, we will be going ahead very strongly with our anti-liquor campaign programmes as we want this habit to be removed from our society,” Kerala’s Excise Minister K Babu told reporters just after the apex court’s verdict.
Reacting to the new development, Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association’s president Raj Kumar Unni said, “Yes, we will seek legal advice on how to move forward,” said Unni.
Bar owner Elegant Binoy told reporters that the latest verdict is not the end of the world for the bar association.
“What must be noticed is that the liquor policy of the state is an annual exercise and there are just three more months for this policy. From April 1, 2016, there has to be a new policy, so we will wait and see, and before that we also will sit down and discuss what other legal recourse is there before us,” said Binoy.
In March this year, the Kerala High Court had ratified the liquor policy, saying that since the government policy is being put in place for the welfare of the citizens, it cannot intervene, according to The Indian Express.
From April 1, 2015, only 27 five-star hotels were serving liquor and with Tuesday’s verdict, the status quo would be maintained. Liquor, however, will be available through 305 retail liquor shops owned by the Kerala government. And, here too, 10 percent of these shops would be closed down every October, the new policy statement announced. By now 78 shops have already downed their shutters.
State Congress president VM Sudheeran had in December 2014 praised Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s decision to enforce prohibition by October 2023, describing the policy as being “pragmatic and practical”.
Chandy had told the Kerala Assembly in 2014 that though the fundamental rules in the policy would not be changed, certain corrections would be made with regards to the tourism sector and the rehabilitation of about 7,000 employees of the bars.