Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi, Dec 29 (IANS) Tipplers in Kerala were left wringing their hands in despair as the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the state’s policy to restrict service and consumption of liquor to only bars in five star hotels. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said they will now be able to “tackle the evils of alcoholism” and dared the Left opposition to tinker with the policy in case they come to power.
An apex court bench of Justice Vikramjit Sen and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh dismissed the petitions challenging the liquor policy upholding the Kerala High Court judgment in the matter.
Under the policy, sale and consumption of liquor at bars in hotels below five star is prohibited.
The Kerala government was quick to hail the verdict.
“What all did they (Left) say when this policy was first unveiled. They said this was made without any logic and one without any substance. They said this was framed to help some people,” Chandy said.
“The liquor policy of ours was not evolved in a day, instead it was one that took a proper shape and moved forward right from the days when K. Karunakaran, A.K. Antony and later when I headed the government (2004) and it reached this stage… when we decided to eradicate the social evil with our new policy,” Chandy told reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday.
“We feel this policy is one of the most prominent ones because through this, we will be able to tackle the evils of alcoholism.
“The Left should come forward and tell the people whether they would tinker with the now Supreme Court-cleared liquor policy, if they come to power,” Chandy added.
Asked about the rehabilitation of workers in the now-closed bars in other hotels, he said: “We are sympathetic towards such people who have lost their jobs and are prepared to do anything for them. They will be adequately compensated.”
Just after the court verdict, Excise Minister K. Babu told reporters in Thiruvanathapuram: “We are happy that the Supreme Court 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.”
Only 27 five-star hotel bars in Kerala will be able to serve liquor.
In March, the Kerala High Court upheld the liquor policy and dismissed a petition of 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, 2016, there has to be a new policy, so we will wait and see. Before that, we will also sit down and discuss what other legal recourse there is before us.”
In August 2014, the Chandy government announced that it was deciding to go for total prohibition in 10 years and had issued notice for closure to all 710 bars in the state.
Liquor, however, will be available through 305 retail liquor shops owned by the Kerala government.
Here too, 10 percent of these shops would be closed down every October, the new policy statement says. Till now, 78 shops have already downed their shutters.
Defending the ban on serving liquor at other hotels, the Kerala government said liquor was available at retail outlets and people can buy and drink at home.
The state government had told the court that drinking at home in presence of wives and children would discourage drinkers from pursuing the habit.
The apex court on September 11, 2014, had asked the Kerala High Court to decide on the challenge to the notification directing bar owners below five-star hotels to shut their business. The high court by its March 31 order upheld the policy, terming drinking at bars a luxury.