Kochi: Setting aside a single judge order permitting bars in four-star and heritage hotels, the Kerala High Court on Tuesday upheld the state government’s liquor policy for 2014-15 confining bar licences only to five star hotels.
A Division Bench, comprising justices KT Sankaran and Babu Mathew P Joseph, ratified the government’s liquor policy framed last year and subsequent amendments granting licences to beer and wine parlours.
Delivering the judgement, the bench said there was nothing to offend fundamental rights or to term arbitrary or irrational about the liquor policy.
It set aside the ruling of the single judge permitting bars in four-star and heritage hotels. Equating four-star and five star hotels was illegal “as the yardsticks to their classification are different”, it said.
The bench delivered the verdict after hearing appeals by bar owners and state government against the order of the single judge who modified the state’s liquor policy, allowing four-star and heritage hotels also to run liquor bars while upholding its decision to close down bars run by three-star hotels. The state had banned bars in all hotels below five-star status.
The bench also relied on a scientific study by a one-man Commission on consumption of liquor in the state to uphold the policy. The bench, which dictated the judgement in an open court continuously from 10.30 am to 4.45 pm, rejected plea of bar owners that the closing down of bars will affect the economy of the state and its tourism prospects.
“The government is fully aware of its economic capacity,” it said.
Noting that rights of individuals are not affected by the policy, the court said it cannot dictate the government that the policy was bad. The state was trying to implement various policies year after year to achieve total prohibition stage by stage, it said.
“Now a comprehensive policy to attain the objective has been declared by the government. There is nothing offensive in the policy affecting fundamental rights,” the court said.
Rejecting a batch of appeals filed by the bar owners, the bench said, public health is the primary duty of the state.
In August last year, the government had announced plans to ban sale and consumption of alcohol and said it aimed to enforce total prohibition within 10 years. Plans included closing bars and shops selling alcohol and introducing more alcohol free days.
As per the policy only luxury hotels would be allowed to serve alcohol. Bar owners argued that the move was discriminatory and affected their business.