Though puritans may look down at them with contempt, the judiciary has a soft corner for them. On Tuesday, the Kerala High Court came down heavily on the Kerala Government and the Kerala Beverages Corporation (Bevco), the monopoly liquor traders in the State for the cruel manner in which they treat consumers of spirits.
Justice Devan Ramachandran, while hearing a petition regarding the non-implementation of the court’s earlier order to provide a dignified way to citizens to purchase liquor from BEVCO outlets, lambasted the Government of Kerala as well as the authorities of Bevco for their indifference towards the thousands queuing up in front of the liquor outlets to buy their regular quota.
“How do you make our citizens do this? We are talking about the collective dignity of citizens. Just because those people are poor and hardworking and they come in the evening and they buy their liquor, their beverage, it doesn’t mean you can treat them like cattle, or worse. Especially after you (State Government) told me that all those shops which do not conform to the standards are closed down,” said the Justice, who disclosed that he had personally visited the outlets in Kochi to get a first-hand experience of the situation.
The judge shared photographs of the shop he had seen the previous day.
“It has got a barricade. If you see if, it looks scary. It’s a dark room, so dark that you can’t see inside it. And even in this photograph taken just this morning, you can see a few people queuing outside it. It is worse in the evening. I want to know whether this shop has been found suitable by the excise commissioner,” said the Justice.
He further stated that had this been a shop that sold any other items, authorities would have shut it down much earlier.
According to Justice Ramachandran, the liquor outlets in the State resemble “dingy drug and gambling den that is seen in old Bollywood movies”. He reminded the Kerala Government and Bevco officials that the court had issued many directions in this regard so that the customers would get dignified experience when they visit these outlets.
The judge said though the August 4 Government order lifting the lockdown had mandated that people need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a RT-PCR negative test certificate to enter shops and business premises, such requirements were not being implemented for people crowding in front of Bevco outlets. “Why you are not making vaccination/RT-PCR compulsory for tipplers?,” asked the judge who told the Government lawyer to furnish the relevant information by Wednesday.
Elsewhere in the State, tipplers are demanding the liberalisation of liquor sales in the State by opening cosy showrooms/outlets so that they could procure liquor without losing their dignity. Liquor consumers in the State are demanding opening up of outlets similar to those in Puducherry, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and other north Indian States. Kerala is one of the largest liquor consuming State in the country, according to AMBROSIA, the magazine for alcobev industry. But the facilities for consumers are the worst, if the observation of the High Court is any indication.