In a blow to small bars in Kerala, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the state government’s liquor policy that only allows establishments at five-star hotels to serve alcoholic beverages.
Stating that the liquor policy “must be given a reasonable time to pan out”, it dismissed a batch of petitions filed against it by the Kerala Bar Hotels Association.
The bench, headed by Justice Vikramjit Sen, said: “Vulnerable persons, either because of age or proclivity towards intoxication or as a feature of peer pressure, more often than not, succumb to this temptation. Banning public consumption of alcohol, therefore, in our considered opinion, cannot but be seen as a positive step towards bringing down the consumption of alcohol, or as preparatory to prohibition.”
The petitioners had moved the apex court after the Kerala high court found no fault with the policy – which makes it illegal to serve alcohol at establishments ranked lower than five stars – in March this year. Now, only 24 five-star hotels in the state would have the licence to serve Indian-made foreign liquor. “The court cannot be blind to the fact that the social stigma, at least as far as the family unit is concerned, is still attached to the consumption of alcohol. Free trade in alcohol denudes family resources and reserves, and leaves women and children as its most vulnerable victims,” the bench said.
Advocating judicial restraint, the court noted: “Courts must be loathe to venture into an evaluation of state policy... If a policy proves to be unwise, oppressive or mindless, the electorate has been quick to make the government aware of its folly.”
On March 31, the high court had expressed similar sentiments – stating that it cannot interfere with executive decisions aimed at public welfare.