The Kerala High Court on Thursday upheld the state government’s decision to close down about 700 bars in a boost for the administration which aims to make the state alcohol-free by 2023.
The court, however, allowed heritage and four-star hotels to serve liquor apart from five-star ones that were already exempted.
Kerala has India’s highest per capita alcohol consumption at more than eight litres per person annually while the national average is 5.7 litres.
Bar owners and hoteliers who had challenged the government order in the high court said they will now approach the Supreme Court.
The Congress party-led UDF government has closed more than 400 bars since March by not renewing their operating licences.
“It’s a welcome move. Our aim is total prohibition in a phased manner,” said chief minister Oommen Chandy on the high court order.
The government’s decision came this year after many members of the political class complained about increased underage drinking, a binge-drinking culture and drinking by women in the state.
Thursday’s verdict means the liquor bars in 33 four-star hotels, 21 five-star hotels and eight heritage properties can function.
Total prohibition would cause a monetary loss of about Rs 9,000 crore a year to the state as sale of alcohol is a key source of revenue for Kerala apart from Gulf remittances.
The government would also have to rehabilitate nearly 25,000 workers at bar hotels who would lose their jobs.
Bar owners say with the alcohol ban Kerala would lose much of its charm as a tourism spot and people would opt for nearby destinations like Goa or Sri Lanka.
(With agency inputs)