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SC upholds Kerala liquor policy

A bench of Justices Vikramajit Sen and Shiva Kirti Singh passed the order on a batch of pleas by Kerala bar owners, who had challenged the liquor policy claiming it to be discriminatory.

The judgment comes at a time, when other states like Bihar are mulling a ban on liquor in the state. Bihar Chief Minister earlier this month had announced the state government’s decision to impose liquor ban from April 1 next year, his move is facing intense opposition from the strong lobby of liquor vendors.

Nitish Kumar had promised women voters that he would ban liquor – a move that paid rich political dividends. Many other states may follow suit after the apex court ruling in Kerala.

Following the Supreme Court order liquor stocks fell by up to 3.2 per cent. Shares of Empee Distilleries went down by 3.20 per cent, Pincon Spirit lost 3.05 per cent and Tilaknagar Industries fell by 2.75 per cent on BSE. Similarly, United Spirits dipped by 2.69 per cent and United Breweries fell by 0.71 per cent. Meanwhile, in the broader market BSE Sensex ended at 26,079.48 up 45.35 points.

Earlier the Kerala High Court had upheld the state government’s liquor policy which is aimed at making Kerala a liquor-free state by 2023.  The apex court said the state government would consider taking measures for rehabilitation of those who will lose employment due to the policy.  

The verdict, which was reserved in August, was delivered a day before Justice Sen is to retire as a judge of the Supreme Court. 

The bar owners, in their plea, have contended that the policy was discriminatory in nature and would lead to a situation where only the well-heeled have access to alcohol.  

However, Kerala government had argued that the decision taken by the state not to renew licenses was a policy decision.  The private bar owners had contended that this policy of “partial ban” was discriminatory in nature. 

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, then appearing for the bar owners, had said this policy will lead to a situation where only the well-heeled have access to alcohol.  

On October 30, 2014, the Kerala High Court had upheld the state government’s decision to close down more than 700 bars, but had exempted heritage and four-star hotels. 

The top court was told that Kerala’s share was 14.9 per cent of the total consumption of liquor in the country and that its people consume alcohol worth Rs 30 crore a day.

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  said, after the apex court’s verdict on Tuesday.
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