A division bench of Kerala High Court has ratified the new step-by-step liquor policy of the Congress-led government paving way to the shutdown of all the liquor bar hotels in the state except those in five-star category.
As per the Court verdict on Tuesday, only 24 five-star hotels in the state would have the license to serve liquor from April 2 onwards. The division bench was considering the appeals moved by the government as well as the bar owners and observed that it could not intervene in the government policy, which aimed at public welfare. According to the Clause 47 of the Constitution, the government has the right to adopt steps including anti-liquor policies. Therefore the analysts say that Supreme Court verdict would not likely favour the liquor lobby. The Court observed that banning the sale or consumption of liquor does not encroach on the fundamental right of the citizen and that the state government had every right to move ahead with its bold step aimed at protecting the health of the people. The Court verdict also marks the end of clashes in the Congress party between Congress state president V M Sudheeran and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy over the liquor policy. The new liquor policy spearheaded by Sudheeran was announced last year after the party failed to reach a consensus on reopening the 418 bars that were closed down on the grounds of hygiene and infrastructure.
The government’s liquor policy aims to make the state totally liquor free in the coming ten years in a phased manner. It will start by closing down all bars below five-star category immediately and then wind up every year 10% of the retail outlets being run by government agencies. The Court also stated that the bar hotel owners need not worry about the loss of revenue for the government and the government should consider the welfare of the people along with revenue. Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of liquor in the country with people emptying their pockets into the liquor shops and beverages outlets frequently. But in the two months of the closure of the 418 bars, a 31 percent decrease in domestic violence cases and 36 percent decline in the abuses related to drinking were reported.
The Chandy government should come forward to put an end to the deceptive liquor policy. The government is pandering to the demands of the alcohol lobby and the senior Ministers are facing charges related to bar-bribery scandal. The license of the clubs serving liquor should be cancelled and forces should be deployed to curb the flow of illegal liquor in the state. If a liquor-free state is to be accomplished in the coming years, the government and the people should act with deserved and utmost seriousness and a detailed and transparent inquiry should be carried out against the accused. One has yet to see whether the government would uphold the interests of the people above the political motives.