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High court stops Kerala from liquor sales amid lockdown, says recipe for disaster

In a huge embarrassment to the Pinarayi Vijayan government, the Kerala High Court on Thursday stepped in to stop the government move to allow addicts to buy alcohol if they produce a doctor’s prescription. A bench of the high court comprising justices AK Jayasankaran Nambiar and Shaji P Chaly called the government order “disturbing” and a “recipe for disaster”.

The bench was hearing appeals against the government order filed by activists, doctors and the state wing of the Indian Medical Association.

On Monday, Kerala’s Excise Department issued orders allowing liquor vends to sell liquor in controlled quantities to addicts if they come with a recommendation from a government doctor.

The government order had drawn immediate criticism from medical practitioners and opposition parties. The Pinarayi Vijayan government had defended the order, pointing out that eight people had killed themselves due to unavailability of liquor due to the national lockdown.

In court on Thursday, the government presented a similar defence but the judges weren’t convinced. The state’s law officer tried, pointing that liquor in moderate quantities was administered to addicts as part of treatment also.

The judges expressed concern at the state’s unilateral decision to administer alcohol to persons suffering from alcohol withdrawal syndrome, calling it a disturbing decision that wasn’t supported by scientific studies.

This is a recipe for disaster, the bench observed, ordering the government to immediately stop implementing the decision for the next three weeks.

The government had initially tried to keep liquor vends open by classifying them as an essential service but had to backtrack after opposition attacks. It also considered online sale of liquor so that social distancing norms aren’t violated.

Before the lockdown was ordered, the state-run Beverages Corporation was selling an average of liquor worth Rs 40 to 45 crore a day. In 2018-19, the corporation sold alcohol worth Rs 14,508 crore. Excise duty on liquor is between 300 per cent and 500 per cent in the state which means a Rs 100 bottle of rum in the brewery will cost in the Rs 400-500 in the market.

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