Court reprieve for 250 Kerala hotel bars

Kochi, Oct 31 (IANS) A Kerala High Court division bench Friday stayed for a month, Thursday’s single judge bench verdict directing 250 two and three star bars to close immediately.

The division bench of Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Babu Mathew P. Thomas was acting on a petition from the 250 two and three star hotel bars owners which said that Thursday’s verdict was discriminatory.
The bench said that starting next week there will be a detailed hearing in this case and a final verdict will be given after that.
A single bench of Justice K. Surendra Mohan Thursday allowed 33 four star hotels and eight heritage hotel bars to operate, while directing all the 250 two and three star hotel bars to close down immediately.
It was in August that the Kerala government announced its new liquor policy wherein it said that as part of achieving prohibition in a phased manner, barring 21 five star hotels, all other hotels should close their bars.
The Kerala bar owners association had sought legal recourse against this announcement.
The division bench’s one-month stay came at a time when the state excise department had, by Friday afternoon, completed the sealing of all the 250 two and three star bars and had accounted for the balance stock of liquor, which they had planned to confiscate.
State Excise Minister K. Babu expressed unhappiness at the latest development.
He said: “This is not a setback for the government as this is just a stay for a month. We will now seek legal advice on how to go about it.”
Senior Congress legislator and legal expert V.D. Satheesan said that what’s happening is a legal battle between the association and the government over the liquor policy.
He said: “This is not at all a setback for the government and this case will go on and I feel this case will finally be settled only in the Supreme Court.”
Syro Malabar Catholic Church spokesperson Paul Thelekkat said the stay is certainly a setback for the government.
He said: “Today’s stay has come because the liquor policy of the government is discriminatory as it allows operation of five star hotel bars. The policy should have been very clear and it should not have allowed a single hotel bar to operate, irrespective of its star status. We all hope the government will take corrective steps.”
Media critic S. Jayashankar said that this is the perfect birthday gift for Chief Minister Oommen Chandy (who turned 71 today) for framing a liquor policy in haste.
Senior CPI legislator V.S. Sunil Kumar opined that Chandy is a clever person and that’s why he came out with a piecemeal liquor policy knowing well that the courts will do the needful.
He said: “Now we can see a long legal battle and Chandy will wash his hands off it saying he has done his job and now it’s in the hands of the court.”