Thiruvananthapuram: Tipplers in Kerala were left wringing their hands in despair as the Supreme Court upheld the state policy to restrict service and consumption of liquor at bars in five star hotels only -- a verdict that was hailed by the Oommen Chandy government
The apex court bench comprising Justice Vikramjit Sen and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh in their judgement pronounced on Tuesday dismmissed the petitions challenging the Kerala liquor policy upholding Kerala High Court judgement on the matter.
Under the policy, the sale and consumption of liquor at the bars in hotels below five star is prohibited.
The Kerala government on Tuesday hailed the Supreme Court's verdict that not only upheld the Kerala High Court's verdict but also the Oommen Chandy government's liquor policy.
According to the Kerala government's new liquor policy, only 27 five-star hotels' bars will be able to serve liquor.
"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 on Tuesday.
In March this year the Kerala High Court upheld the state's new liquor policy and dismissed a petition of the Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association. Following this, the hotel association, led by its president Raj Kumar Unni, approached the apex court against this verdict.
From April 1, only 27 five-star hotels were serving liquor and with Tuesday's verdict, the status quo would be maintained.
Reacting to the new development, Unni said the government will now decide how and what to do next. "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 August 2014 the Chandy-led Kerala government announced, as part of its new liquor policy, that it was deciding to go in for total prohibition in 10 years and had issued a notice for closure to all the 710 bars, including the 418 ones that had not opened since April 1 that year.
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.
With assembly polls round the corner, all eyes are on the Left opposition as to what would be its liquor policy, as the apex court on Tuesday pointed out it is the decision of the state government to formulate its own policy.