National

Court upholds ban on liquor in Kerala

KPM Basheer Kochi | Updated on December 08, 2017

A man laments over the closure of bars even as a protest gains strength in front of a beverages outlet in Kozhikode in August this year. S RAMESHKURUP

Shutters bars attached to 2/3 star hotels but allows those at 4/5 star facilities



The suspense over the continued existence of liquor bars in Kerala has ended with the Kerala High Court partially endorsing the government’s liquor policy by disallowing the functioning of bars attached to two and three-star hotels, while, at the same time, allowing four and five-star bars as well as heritage bars to function.

In a long-awaited judgment, Justice K. Surendra Mohan on Thursday allowed 33 bars in the four-star category (apart from the 21 five-star and eight heritage bars which had already been exempted from its closure order). This means 62 bars attached to five and four-star hotels as well as heritage hotels wills stay. The nearly 250 other bars operating now on the strength of a Supreme Court stay would have to fold immediately.

The High Court has, with today’s crucial verdict, upheld in parts the Congress-led Oommen Chandy Government’s liquor policy. The government had, in August, asked all bars except five-star and heritage bars to close by September 12. This was part of its controversial liquor policy, the core of which was imposition of prohibition in phases over a decade.

Before April 1 this year, there had been around 730 bars (attached to hotels in categories starting from two star) functioning in the State, as well as around 350 liquor outlets run by the Kerala State Beverages Corporation and the Consumerfed. As the government had refused to renew the annual licence of 418 bars, mainly in the two-star category, citing poor standards, these bars have remained closed since then.

Dry daze

Following the announcement of the liquor policy, the government asked close to 300 bars in the three and four-star categories too to down their shutters from September 12. When the High Court refused to stay the closure order, the bar owners moved the Supreme Court which allowed them to function until the High Court single bench gave its verdict. Now that the single bench has given its verdict all those bars currently functioning, except the three and four-star as well as heritage ones, will have to close down immediately.

CM Oommen Chandy, reacting to the court verdict, said it was a vindication of the UDF’s liquor policy. He denied it was a partial setback to his government. V.M. Sudheeran, whose strong opposition to the reopening of the 418 substandard bars had prompted Chandy to opt for a much stricter liquor policy, said the verdict was morale-booster for the UDF. Justice Surendra Mohan had, in all considered 83 petitions submitted by bar owners as well as by pro-prohibition organizations and the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council.

The closure of the 418 substandard bars since April and the order to close the rest had kicked off intense political wrangling in Kerala. It also led to widespread discussions among the people, the media and public forums. The bars owners’ association has said they would go in appeal before a division bench against the single judge’s verdict.

Published on October 30, 2014

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