Court stays Kerala government’s liquor supply plan

Published : April 02, 2020 18:31 IST

People queue up to buy liquor in Kadavanthra, Kochi on March 21. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

The Kerala High Court has issued an interim stay on a controversial order of the State government to allow State Beverages Corporation (Bevco) to supply liquor to individuals with alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) if they presented a pass from the Excise Department issued on the basis of  a ‘note/opinion’ provided by government doctors.

The government was planning to start door delivery of specified quantitities of liquor to.

The government had claimed that it was issuing such an order in the context of the liquor scarcity in the State as a result of the closure of bars, Bevco outlets and toddy shops following the lockdown and the social problems it has led to.

The order issued on March 30 said regular alcohol users faced mental and physical problems as a result of the scarcity of liquor and that several instances of display of suicidal tendencies and suicide attempts had been reported.

It said it was in this context that the government decided to issue liquor in controlled quantities to people with health issues if they underwent medical examination at any government outpatient medical facility.

According to the order, liquor could be supplied to persons who presented a “note/opinion issued by the treating doctor on the basis of his/her conviction that the patient is showing signs of withdrawal symptoms”. Excise officials would issue a “pass” based on the doctor’s opinion and liquor would be supplied by Bevco directly and not through its outlets that remain closed throughout the State.

Government doctors were immediately up in arms against what they termed was an “unethical, illegal and objectionable order”. They said the government was asking them to use alcohol to treat a patient’s addiction while in truth the treatment was otherwise.

Both the Indian Medical Association and the Kerala Government Medical Officer’s Association (KGMOA) had informed the government that the decision would send a wrong message to society that there were no medicines or scientific methods available to manage such patients other than administering alcoholic drinks, and that alcohol can be used as a medicine to treat AWS.

Government doctors attended to their duties, including the care of COVID patients, wearing black badges in hospitals on April 1 in order to register their protest.

A bench comprising Justices A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar and Shaji P. Chaly passed the interim stay order on April 2 based on the petitions filed by the IMA, the KGMOA and Congress MP T.N. Prathapan.

The judges said “it was a recipe for disaster’ and also expressed concern that the government had taken such a “unilateral and disturbing decision” to administer more alcohol to persons suffering from AWS, when no scientific basis existed for such a prescription.