NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court, in a historic verdict on Tuesday, upheld the Kerala government’s liquor policy which restricts the sale of liquor to only five-star bars.
Though the Kerala bar owners were represented by a battery of legal eagles, including Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, their arguments found no favour with the Supreme Court. The judgment, which could set a nation-wide precedent of sorts, was passed by a Bench comprising Justice Vikramjit Sen and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh on a batch of pleas by the Kerala bar owners who had challenged the policy on the ground that it was an “unreasonable restriction” and discriminatory in nature.
The apex court directed the State government to take measures for rehabilitation of those who would be affected by this policy.
Following the judgment, apprehension over the travel and tourism industry in the State taking a hit resulted in stocks of liquor brands tumbling, though there was marginal recovery during the day. Shares of Empee Distilleries fell by 3.20 per cent, Pincon Spirit lost 3.05 per cent and Tilaknagar Industries dipped by 2.75 per cent on the BSE. Similarly, United Spirits ended 2.69 per cent down and United Breweries fell by 0.71 per cent.
The bar owners, in their plea had contended that the policy of “partial ban” was discriminatory, while Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the bar owners, had reasoned that the policy would lead to a situation where only the well-heeled ones would have access to liquor.
The Kerala government defended its policy saying that those ousted from the business had no fundamental right to continue selling liquor at bars. In March, the Kerala High Court upheld the State government’s decision to close over 700 bars, stating that tourism cannot be the only motive of any policy and that the welfare and health of people are equally important.
The State’s share stands at about 14.9 per cent of the total consumption of liquor in the country and the consumption per day stands at a whopping Rs 30 crore a day.
The sale of alcohol is permitted only in five-star hotels. The state government submitted before the Supreme Court that the liquor traders can’t protest against the ban on all category of bars except those in five star hotels, as they had no right to protection to practise their trade under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution.
All Fall Down
Overall alcohol consumption fell 20.27 per cent in 18 months following Kerala’s new liquor policy
Dipping sales led to a revenue loss of Rs 4,000 crore for the total spirits market in the State
Alcohol sales and consumption grew steadily in the past 30 years with gross revenue shooting up from Rs 55.46 crore in FY85 to Rs 9,353.74 crore in 2013-14
Sales of Indian-made foreign liquor took the biggest hit as they slumped 24.92 per cent in 18 months