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SCOI Report: 4 lawyers argue & laugh about Kerala liquor ban as Sibal closes for 4 hours, petitioners begin

Will Kerala slide into prohibition?
Will Kerala slide into prohibition?

The Kerala Government’s senior counsel, Kapil Sibal, who resumed his arguments at 10.30 a.m. yesterday (August 25) in Court No.11 of the Supreme Court, completed his arguments at 2.30 p.m. As the justices Vikramajit Sen and Shiva Kirti Singh queried him about the basis of classification of four star and five star hotels for the purpose of grant of licences to the latter, Sibal asked what is so irrational about classification.

The classification of star hotels has been upheld in Surendra Das by the Supreme Court.

If in State of Kerala vs B Surendra Das, two star and three star hotel classifications have been upheld, why not four-stars, he asked.

“It is not my classification”, he said, pointing to the fact that the state Government only used the classification of hotels by the Central Government. The state government, he said, adopted the same classification for the purpose of reducing the level of consumption of liquor.

Sibal further pointed out that Surendra Das does not say that four and five star hotels are the same. Surendra Das, he said, dealt with three star hotels, but the court was aware of the fact that the state Government was likely to exclude four star hotels for grant of bar licences. The court, in Surendra Das, only wanted the State to await the One Man Commission report on the issue.

The test to be applied, according to Sibal, is not classification, but striking down of policy.

Kaleeswaram Raj, counsel for respondent No 4 in Civil Appeal No 4118/2015 argued about half an hour.

His plea was that his client, Pratapan, a member of the legislative assembly, won the last assembly election on the plank of prohibition, and therefore, wants to ensure the continuation of the current policy followed by the Government.

He also relied on the Supreme Court’s judgment in Subramanian Balaji vs Government of Tamil Nadu, in which the Election Commission was directed to frame certain guidelines to regulate election manifestoes.

His contention was that every policy decision is a political decision. Secondly, a study conducted two months before and after the closure of liquor shops in the state found that domestic violence due to consumption of alchohol was down by 31 per cent.

After this, Wills Mathews, counsel for respondent in Civil Appeal No 5375/2015, the Centre for Consumer Education, made his submissions for 10 minutes.

His argument that two fundamental rights are in collision in this case made the bench probe him further.

He submitted that while the liquor policy is for ensuring dignified life for the state’s residents, it conflicts with the rights of the employees in the liquor trade, because their right to livelihood under Article 21 is affected. He then submitted that the Aadhaar card could be made mandatory to regulate liquor sale.

This provoked laughter in the court, as the bench was unable to make out which side he was arguing for, although he was sitting along with the respondents.

He then sought permission from the bench to withdraw his application for directions objecting to the appearance of Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi, for a private party, against the state government, in the matter. The bench then dismissed his application as withdrawn, and asked him to approach the Law Minister for redressing his grievance.

Thereafter senior counsel, CA Sundaram began his submissions at 3.10 p.m. and was on his legs till 4 p.m. when the court rose for the day. He tried to demolish Kapil Sibal’s contention that under Article 19 (6), the test of reasonableness is not required to be met. He called his submission that arbitrariness per se can’t be a ground as erroneous.

He questioned the policy of the Government to permit five star hotel bars on the ground that tourism needs to be protected, asking under our Constitution, which proclaims socialism as one of its goals, how can such an argument be advanced.

Arguments will continue on August 26.

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