Kerala’s Liquor Policy: What’s wrong with it?
Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the ‘Liquor-Free Kerala’ policy restricting the serving of liquor to five-star hotels in the State. The apex court ruled that the State governments be given a free hand to curtail or ban public consumption of alcohol to protect public health and nutrition.
Before we go into details, let’s see the time-line of Kerala’s Excise Policy
2007 – Kerala govt. started tightening its excise policy to make liquor less-freely available in the state, in the interest of public health. It started a policy where only those hotels that were accorded 3-star or more by Union Govt.’s Ministry of Culture will be given new bar licenses.
2011 – It further tightened the policy by denying licenses to any hotels that were accorded less than 4-star by Union Govt.’s Ministry of Culture. However, those hotels with existing licenses were accorded amnesty, i.e. they were allowed renewal of licenses even if the hotel’s rating was less than 4-star.
2014 – Only hotels classed as 5-star and above by Union Govt.’s Ministry of Culture, will be allowed to serve liquor.
What is Liquor-Free Kerala policy?
The policy seeks to prohibit the sale and service of alcohol in all public places, except bars and restaurants in five-star hotels. To be precise, only five star hotels are now allowed to serve hard liquor.
- Other categories of hotels could supply only beer and wine.
- Govt-run liquor shops are to be phased out at a rate of 10% a year over the next decade.
- Toddy is exempt from the ban and the drink has long been part of Kerala’s culture.
Foreign tourists could be satisfied by beer and wine, while the domestic tourism sector will be the most affected as tourists from other states prefer hard liquor.
What is the need for bringing such a policy?
- Kerala accounts for 14% of the country’s liquor consumption.
- Even, the apex court said that it is well established that consumption of liquor is bad for health of humankind.
- Alcoholism critically impact the household budgets of the poor & may lead to domestic violence.
DPSP also requires state to endeavour for prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs, due to the well-known ill-effects on standards of living and public health.
How this ban could impact Kerala’s economy?
- Kerala earns about $ 3.8 billion/year from tourism, which is likely to be hit by the liquor ban. The state govt. has hiked excise duty on beer to 5% and that on liquor to 8% to offset revenue losses.
- The job opportunities in the tourism sector will also be get affected because of this policy, as the industry provides one out of four jobs in the state.
Why there is so much criticism against prohibition?
- Actually, the policy of prohibition does not encourage the people to quit the habit.
- It leads to underground trade and creates a market for spurious liquor.
- As a policy, prohibition has met with little success anywhere in India, due to corruption within enforcement agencies.
- Even when it has helped bring down overall consumption, prohibition has led to loss of lives in hooch tragedies.
What is the argument for exempting five-star hotels & why is it criticized?
- The State govt. has argued that it is in the interest of tourism.
- However, the Supreme Court’s decision to exempt five-star hotel seems unreasonable and arbitrary.
- The judgment strikes at the root of non-discriminatory treatment under the constitution.
Let’s analyse the court verdict vis-a-vis fundamental rights?
The case is known as The Kerala Bar Hotels Association vs State of Kerala.
The bar associations have argued that the liquor policy violates Art 19(1)(g) and Art 14.
Article 19(1)(g) – To practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.
- However, the liberty to freely carry on any trade or business is subject to reasonable restrictions that may be imposed by state in the interest of general public.
- This argument fails, since Art 47 requires state to make an endeavour towards improving public health, including to bring about prohibition of the consumption of liquor.
Art 14 – The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
- The new excise policy had made an unreasonable classification by separately categorizing hotel of 5-star or more and permitting these hotels to serve liquor in public.
- Therefore, the policy violates Art 14 of constitution by treating persons on an equal standing unequally.
What could be the better policy alternative?
Experts argue that a better idea would be to engage non-state actors to step up the campaign for abstention.
Suggest some better policy alternatives or share some successful case-studies to curb the consumption of liquor.
Published with inputs from Pushpendra