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Kerala's new liquor policy on hold

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Let the High Court decide the future course, says Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Thursday stopped the Kerala government from implementing its new liquor policy under which 730 bar owners were asked to shut shop while sparing five-star hotels. The policy was to be implemented from September 12.

Ordering status quo till September 30, a Bench of Justices Anil R. Dave and U.U. Lalit left it to the Kerala High Court, which is scheduled to hear the plea of affected bar owners on September 18, to decide the future course.

‘This is not the way out’

The Bench acknowledged that drinking was a social problem which ruined families but said an abrupt halt, by shutting down certain establishments and leaving untouched five-star hotels and toddy shops, was not the way to tackle it.

“If it [drinking] is a social problem, then stop it for everybody. This has gone on for years. Why stop it abruptly? If you [State government] think this is a bad thing, stop it. But do it for everyone,” Justice Dave told senior advocate Kapil Sibal, counsel for Kerala.

Mr. Sibal responded that liquor consumption in the State had led to a “social impact on the family and savings of the family are spent on liquor.”

Flawed policy

But senior advocate Fali Nariman, appearing for the bar owners, said the policy was flawed at the outset. “Now a person can very well go to a toddy shop to buy liquor or go home and drink,” he said.

Justice Dave reacted that “individual discipline and not State discipline is what is required.”

Senior advocate Aryama Sundaram, arguing for the bar owners, said: “You cannot distinguish between the rich and the poor. This is like saying let them dance in five-star hotels and not in other hotels.”

Mr. Sibal retorted: “Dance and liquor are different commodities. May be one leads to the other. Till liquor prevails, there is social evil in Kerala.”

Mr. Sundaram, however, questioned this. “But what is the point of this prohibition? Clubs at five-star hotels are allowed. Toddy is left untouched. Only 10 per cent government outlets will be closed every year. The quantity of liquor has not been curbed.”

Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani said bar owners had valid licences till March 31, 2015. They should have been heard before their licences were prematurely forfeited.

Mr. Sibal said licences and their renewal were subject to the conditions imposed by the State government. The bar owners had agreed to them and had no reason to complain now.

But Justice Dave’s reply was a question to the State: “Will it not be better for you to educate the people first?”

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 1:46:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/if-drinking-is-a-social-problem-stop-it-for-everyone-sc-to-kerala/article6401164.ece

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