Kochi: In a relief to owners of bars in small and medium hotels a day after a single judge upheld the state government's decision to close them down, Kerala High Court on Friday permitted 250 bars to function for a month.
A division bench ordered status quo as on October 29 with regard to the 250 bars while admitting appeals by bar owners challenging the single judge's order.
Disposing of a batch of 81 petitions which had challenged the government decision to close down 312 bars attached to hotels below five-star ranking, Justice Surendra Mohan had yesterday upheld the government excise policy for 2014-15, paving the way for closure of 700 bars in the state.
The judge, however, gave some reprieve allowing 33 bars in four-star and eight in heritage category hotels to function after the state government had banned bars in all hotels below five-star ranking. Besides, 21 bars in five-star hotels were allowed to operate by the court.
The government order directing closure was, thus, upheld in respect of 250 bars.
When the appeals against this order came up today, a bench comprising Justice Thothathil B Radhakrishanan and Justice Babu Mathew P Joseph ordered status quo, observing the matter required "deeper consideration". It posted the matter to November 14 for hearing.
Earlier, Advocate General, K P Dandapani informed the bench that the state also was proposing to file an appeal against the single judge's order (in respect of bars in four-star and heritage hotels).
The bench then held that "the nature and grounds in the appeal deserves deeper investigation. State proposes to file appeal. The situation needs to be preserved to be continued. So status quo is needed in relation to the matter as on October 29, 2014."
The bench also observed that policy matter can be subjected to judicial scrutiny.
Referring to an observation by the single judge that students and less affluent sections would not go to four-star, heritage and five-star hotels, the bench orally observed that it does not agree with this proposition as it amounted to discrimination among rich and poor.
The bar owners had contended before the single judge that the government decision to close all bars was taken in "haste" and would be counter productive as it would lose substantial revenue from Abkari (excise) business, besides impacting tourism.
The Kerala government's stand was that it was its "avowed" policy to reduce liquor consumption in the state stage by stage and to achieve the goal of total prohibition within a 10 year span.
Out of the 700 odd bars, the government had earlier declined to renew the licences of 418 sub-standard bars and later decided to close down 312 bars in hotels below five-star ranking.