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SCOI Report: Giants Sibal & Salve get permission to debate with dignity as Kerala liquor case ends

Kerala liquor ban hangs in balance as hearings end
Kerala liquor ban hangs in balance as hearings end

Arguments in Kerala liquor case Kerala Bar Hotels Association vs State of Kerala came to an end yesterday (August 27) at 12:30 pm after the bench comprising justices Vikramajit Sen and Shiva Kirti Singh heard as many as five counsel and reserved their judgment, while asking them to give the court written submissions, if any, during next week.

CA Sundaram completed his responses to the Kerala Government’s arguments at 10.50am., after having taken the entire yesterday (August 27) to make his submissions. Harish Salve, who is the senior counsel in civil appeal Nos.4160 and 5032,argued from 10.50 to 11.30. BPS Patil, who is the senior counsel in civil appeal Nos.4161-65 argued for 20 minutes.

VK Biju, who represents some employee associations, argued for 20 minutes. He asked for a clear direction to the Government to ensure that the money allotted for relief to the employees, whose livelihood might suffer due to the closure of bars in star hotels, as a result of government’s policy, should be used only for their welfare.

The bench told him to approach the Kerala high court, if he has any grievance about employees becoming unemployed as a result of the liquor policy of the Government.

Kapil Sibal sought and obtained 15 minutes from the bench to respond to certain new issues which had cropped up during Sundaram’s and Harish Salve’s submissions.

Sibal’s response to the petitioners’ response to his submission brought him in collision with Harish Salve who too obtained the bench’s permission to reply to Sibal point-wise, both of them standing and addressing the bench at the same time in what appeared to be a dignified debate on the subject and one of the liveliest hearings in recent times.

While replying to Sundaram’s argument that the state government resorted to sub-classification, as hotels constitute one class, Sibal clarified that the state government only defined a public place.

Clarifying further, Sibal said tourism is not the mainstay of the policy. He relied on the Supreme Court’s judgment in Khoday distilleries vs State of Karnataka to suggest that between qualified people one can’t discriminate.

Khoday, Sibal said, rejected the application of Article 14 to the liquor trade.

Salve said the degree of deference depends on the nature of rights.

Sibal, who agreed with him, however, added a caveat saying when it comes to liquor, it is different.

Sibal said under Article 19(6), the nature of right is different, and even the basic structure doctrine does not apply here. He refuted the contention that the state government did not consider any “material”, saying material was very much there in the One Man Commission report, in providing data relating to in what manner liquor is being served.

Khoday, he said, permits the State to expand the right under Article 19(6).

The case before the court is not a matter of classification, but qualification, Sibal explained; discrimination is impermissible only between those who qualify.

Salve, however, said direct impact must be seen if the result is discriminatory, whether it is classification or qualification, it doesn’t matter.

Photo by Shadowlink.

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