The LDF regime led by CM Pinarayi Vijayan has been dealt another heavy blow which came from the Kerala High Court's order staying GOK’s move to permit the alcoholic addicts to purchase alcoholic drinks on the basis of a government doctor’s prescription. The stay was issued by the court on April 2, 2020. A bench comprising of Justice A.K. Jayashankar Nambiar and Justice Shaji P Chaly described the government order “disturbing” and a “recipe for disaster”. The government cited ‘recent suicides as a consequence of withdrawal syndrome due to lack of alcoholic drinks’ under national Lockdown.
The court’s stay came after hearing the appeals against the GOK order filed by the activists, National Mental Health Wing, de-addiction wing of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and Kerala Government Medical Officers Association (KGMOA). Their prayer was against GOK order allowing outlets of government-owned Beverages Corporation (BEVCO) to sell liquor to the addicts if they possess a prescription or recommendation from a government doctor. And, home delivery was permitted if it is necessary.
The decision of the government invited the wrath of opposition parties, IMA and government doctors. Pinarayi’s argument was about the suicide of some addicts due to lack of alcohol. The government submitted the same defence before the court, but in vain. Judges were not the takers. State’s attorney argued that there is practice to administer liquor, in moderate quantities, to the addicts and it is a sort of treatment. But the court maintained that the state’s unilateral decision is not supported by any scientific study. The court ordered the government to stop implementing the ‘recipe for disaster’ for the next three weeks.
After Lockdown came to force, government did not close down the BEVCO outlets, because, ‘liquor is an essential commodity’. BJP opposed it hammer and tongs. Then Congress-led Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) followed the suit. When the whole country, and of course also the state of Kerala, were undergoing Lockdown, long queues and crowds in front of the BEVCO outlets were defeating the very idea of social distancing, the alpha and omega of the fight against COVID-19. When public opinion started to snow ball against the government decision it had to go back on its earlier stand hence the outlets were closed.
BEVCO was selling Rs 40 to 45 crores worth liquor a day before the declaration of Lockdown. In 2018 – 19, BEVCO sold Rs 14,508 crores worth liquor. Excise duty on liquor is between 300 % to 500 % in the state, that is a Rs 100 bottle of rum in the brewery will cost Rs 400 – 500 in the market.
Here there is an important point which government doctors uphold: If they are authorised to issue recommendations for the liquor addicts, they will not get time for treating the patients, including the COVID-19 infected. Because, several lakhs will be approaching them in no time. Moreover, if there is any delay or NO from their side in issuing the prescriptions, the addicts may turn violent. It may lead even to physical attack.
And, another defeat for Pinaray in his legal battle; something like a regular phenomena since he took over in 2016.