Liquor ban in Kerala reeks of bias, A-G tells apex court

Braving objections raised by a lawyer against him appearing for Kerala’s four-star private bar and hotel owners against the State government’s liquor policy, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the Supreme Court on Friday that the ban impacted the ordinary man’s comfort to have a drink in a way he could afford.

“Is it only the privileged and the well-heeled people, both foreign and domestic, who are supposed to enjoy the comfort of a drink in a good hotel or a bar?”

Mr. Rohatgi challenged the State’s liquor policy to exempt only five-star hotels from the ban. He questioned the logic of the ban before a Bench of Justices Vikramjit Sen and Shiva Kirti Singh, saying a man who is not so well off in life that he cannot afford five-star comfort is now expected to stand in a queue for his bottle, come back to his hotel room in a four-star hotel to have his drink.

“Consider the tax revenue that would have been chargeable had he been allowed to drink from the hotel bar?” Mr. Rohatgi asked.

“Are you saying now that you came here with the State’s interest in mind?” Justice Sen retorted.

Mr. Rohatgi said either the Kerala government should follow the Gujarat example of total prohibition or none at all, rather than this discrimination.

He tried to highlight the hypocrisy of the liquor policy with statistics, saying four-star bars accounted for only 0.4 per cent of the liquor consumption compared to the 384 IMFL shops that accounted for 75.39 per cent. “These shops were run by State entities in addition to 5,000 toddy shops granted by auction,” Mr. Rohatgi said.

“I thought toddy was available in trees. In Bihar, you get toddy under the same tree,” Justice Singh wondered, compelling Mr. Rohatgi to explain that the spirit is commercially sold in shops in Kerala. “It does not even give me the legitimate expectation of giving me time to recoup my financial losses, he submitted. Crores of rupees have been invested by my clients because they believed in the State’s tourism policy that a bar licence is mandatory for four-star and five-star hotels. So what is good for five-star is good for me too. We are homogenous, we contribute to tourism,” Mr. Rohatgi argued.

“Has a study been made of how big a contribution five and four-star hotels make to the State’s tourism?” Justice Singh asked.

Justice Singh said the constitutional duty of the State to regulate liquor consumption for public health purposes should not be considered as a shackle.

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2020 9:24:40 AM |

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