National

Apex court upholds Kerala liquor policy

KRISHNADAS RAJAGOPAL New Delhi | Updated on January 22, 2018

The apex court has said Kerala's liquor ban has nothing to do with "neat and clean" bars and has everything to do with the health of a nation.   -  The Hindu

Ruling sets a judicial precedent for other States to ban or restrict the sale of alcohol

In a historic judgment confirming the State’s right to impose even an “unreasonable” ban on sale of liquor if the move benefits public health, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the liquor policy of Kerala government restricting sale of alcohol to only five star bars.

A bench of Justices Vikramjit Sen and Shiva Kirti Singh upheld the State's argument that even “unreasonable restrictions” by the State cannot be challenged by liquor traders.

Giving the thumbs down to the challenge against the liquor policy by three-star and four-star bar owners, the judgment agreed with the Kerala government that its liquor ban has nothing to do with “neat and clean” bars and has everything to do with the health of a nation.

The judgment sets a nationwide judicial precedent for other States like Bihar, where liquor sales were recently banned by the Nitish Kumar govt., and the Union govt. to ban or restrict the sale of liquor citing concern for health of the public.

The Kerala govt. had submitted that liquor traders cannot protest the “unreasonableness” of the ban on all category of bars except those in five star hotels as they have no right to protection to practise their trade under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution.

The court has agreed with the State’s argument that liquor traders have no business to intervene in the policy prescriptions of the State government.

“Policy prescriptions are attempts by the State... an experimentation... which will be met with partial success or failure or complete failure or success. A policy is based on the available situation. We cannot foresee all possible situations. But it is our right to endeavour for a liquor-free Kerala,” senior advocate Kapil Sibal had argued for the State.

He had said it was the policy of the government that every child should get education and nutrition. He had argued that the State has the power to ban liquor, provided the authority is reasonably used with valid explanations.

“I cannot deny a person licence because I don’t like his face. People don’t come to my State only to drink alcohol. It is otherwise also a lovely place,” Mr Sibal reasoned in response to bar owners’ arguments that tourism in the State will take a fall if the policy is upheld.

Kerala had explained the exemption given to five-star hotels to serve liquor as a “balance between promotion and prohibition” as people from all over the world come to Kerala.

“The ground reality is different... Young but wizened faces, class notes in hand, line up outside bars which function like arrack shops. These shops are opened at 8.30 a.m. to cater to these children. We have no ulterior motive,” Mr. Sibal said.

Mr. Sibal said the policy was not the State's brainchild, but a product of sustained campaigns by the public, the NGOs, Church, laity and women against liquor. The judgment deals a death blow to over 400 bar owners in the State, some of whom were represented by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.

(This news report was first published in The Hindu online edition.)

Published on December 29, 2015

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