Supreme Court stamps its approval on the new liquor policy of the Kerala Government

Supreme Court: Answering an appeal preferred against the judgement of the division bench of the High Court of Kerala, a bench of Shiva Kirti Singh and Vikramjit Sen J.J. upheld the decision of the High Court thereby giving nod to the controversial Abkari Policy for the year 2014-2015 and said that only Five Star hotels in the State of Kerala are permitted to serve alcohol in public.

In the present case, the Abkari policy framed by the Kerala government as well as the amendments to the Foreign Liquor Rules was assailed before a Single Judge of the Kerala High Court by the writ petitioners who found the exclusion of the four star and heritage category hotels as arbitrary and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. The division bench of the High Court in the intra-court appeal reversed the conclusion of the learned Single Judge and upheld the Abkari Policy. Preferring an appeal to the Supreme Court the appellants submitted that there is no intelligible differentia in the creation of classes, on their predication that Four Star and Five Star hotels form one homogenous class. The appellants further argued that a right under Article 19(1)(g) exists in the business of liquor. The respondent on the other hand contended that the classification has been based on reasonable differentia and that there is no right to trade in liquor because it is res extra commercium.

Stating that Article 47 of the Constitution places a responsibility on every State Government to at least contain if not curtail consumption of alcohol, the Court stamped its approval on the Abkari policy of the Kerala Government stating that it could not detect any arbitrariness or capriciousness either in the classification, nay the unique treatment given by the State to hotels possessing Five Star rating. It said that the policy cannot be written off as arbitrary or procedurally unsound. The Court noted that the business in potable liquor is in the nature of res extra commercium and would therefore be subject to more stringent restrictions than any other trade or business.[The Kerala Bar Hotels Association v. State of Kerala, 2015 SCC OnLine SC 1385 decided on 29-12-2015]

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