KOCHI: Observing that the Abkari policy is still a ball in the hands of the State, a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court has asked the government to convert the policy into a law in terms of the Constitution.
“The policy would become law only if the government proceeds to make it a law in terms of the Constitution. The court sees that the government is quite aware of the legal situation, and that is why it has required the competent authorities under it to take immediate action in that regard,” the Bench observed.
The Division Bench, comprising Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan and Justice P B Suresh Kumar also adjourned to September 17 the hearing of the appeals filed by the bar owners, challenging the Single-Judge order declining their plea to renew licences of the 418 closed bars.
Advocate General K P Dandapani submitted that the State Government had arrived at a policy and produced the government order (GO) reflecting the policy, along with a statement on the issue. After going through the government order, the Bench observed that the State had only formulated a liquor policy, and that there was a need to form a law. It further noted that the government had promised to take action immediately.
The State government made it clear that it would amend the rules and the law after holding further discussions. The State Government has directed the Excise Commissioner and the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (BEVCO) to implement the government order, and also asked to submit suggestions on amending the existing law in the wake of the new policy.
As per the new liquor policy, the government has decided to close down all the bars in the State, except those attached to five-star hotels.
Further, the court orally observed that with the new policy in place its previous order to conduct inspections at bar hotels may become irrelevant.
Meanwhile, Taxes Secretary A Ajith Kumar, in an affidavit, submitted that the Excise Commissioner had constituted a team of officers to conduct inspection at 105 hotels. In the meantime, the government has come out with a new Abkari Policy, whereby it decided to close down all the bars, except those attached to five-star hotels. The State further submitted that inspection at the remaining hotels in the list of the 418 bars was in progress. The State also sought clarification on whether a report was to be submitted in the wake of the new policy decision.
Meanwhile, a Single Judge of the High Court adjourned the hearing of the petitions filed by the bar owners, challenging the new Abkari policy to September 18. The court declined to pass any interim order preventing the government from closing down the bars until the next hearing.