New Delhi/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 was quick to hail the verdict.
"We are happy that the Supreme Court 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 in Thiruvanathapuram, just after the apex court's verdict.
Only 27 five-star hotels' bars in Kerala will be able to serve liquor.
In March this year, the Kerala High Court upheld the state's liquor policy and dismissed a petition of the Kerala Bar Hotel Owners Association. Following this, the hotel association approached the apex court.
Bar owner Elegant Binoy told reporters: "...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."
In August 2014, the Oommen Chandy government announced that it was deciding to go in for total prohibition in 10 years and had issued a notice for closure to all 710 bars.
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 said. By now, 78 shops have already downed their shutters.
Defending the ban on the service of liquor at bars below five star hotels, Kerala government had contended that the liquor was available on the retail outlets and people can buy and drink at their homes. The state government had told the court that drinking at home with wife and children present would discourage the drinkers from pursuing the habit.
The apex court on September 11, 2014, had asked Kerala High Court to decide the challenge to the notification directing the bar owners below the five star hotels to shut their business. The high court by its March 31 order had upheld the policy, terming drinking at bars a luxury.