Kerala HC stays LDF government decision to supply liquor to addicts

South India

The government had allowed the supply of alcohol during the 21-day Coronavirus lockdown to those suffering from withdrawal.

In a huge embarrassment to the Left Democratic Front government, the Kerala High Court Thursday stayed the government's decision to allow the supply of alcohol during the Coronavirus lockdown to addicts showing symptoms of withdrawal.

The order was passed via video conferencing by a division bench of Justices Shaji P Chaly and AK Jayasankaran Nambia in different appeals against the government order by activists, doctors and the state chapter of the Indian Medical Association.

The judges noted that the government decision not supported by scientific studies was a recipe for disaster. The court has initially stayed the government order three weeks. It has further directed that the matter be listed again after a period of three weeks.

The government order under challenge was passed on Monday night in spite of objection from doctors' bodies. By this order, the government had allowed the supply of alcohol during the 21-day national lockdown to those facing alcohol withdrawal on a doctor's prescription attesting to the same.

The government had initially tried to keep liquor vends open by classifying them as an essential service but had to backtrack after the Centre declared the country-wide lockdown. It also considered online sale of liquor without violating social distancing norms.

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.

Before the lockdown was ordered, the state-run Beverages Corporation was selling an average of liquor worth Rs 40 to 45 crore a day, a report in Hindustan Times said. 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, the report added.

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