Kerala High Court on Thursday stayed the state government’s order allowing home delivery of liquor during the lockdown for those with withdrawal symptoms, calling the plan a “recipe for disaster”.
On Wednesday, government doctors had observed a “black day” protesting the administration’s order that alcohol could be issued if government doctors certified an applicant had withdrawal symptoms.
The bench of Justices A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar and Shaji P. Chaly ordered the interim stay after considering separate writ petitions moved by Congress parliamentarian T.N. Pratapan, the Kerala Government Medical Officers Association and the Indian Medical Association.
“This is a recipe for disaster,” Justice Nambiar remarked while noting there was no medical literature supporting such a move.
The doctors had argued that prescribing alcohol would go against medical tenets and that they could only ask alcoholics to undergo de-addiction treatment.
Justice Nambiar asked the state counsel K.V. Sohan how alcohol could be treated as a remedy for withdrawal symptoms. The judge found it “disturbing” that the government had “unilaterally” decided to provide more alcohol to people suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
The doctors’ counsel argued that the medics prescribing liquor would be liable to face disciplinary action from the medical authorities.
The government’s decision was based on the immediate outcome of the ban on liquor sales during the lockdown in Kerala — six drinkers had committed suicide after the liquor stores were closed.
The decision was also guided by the seizure of thousands of litres of spurious liquor, which suggested the drinkers were switching to hooch.
After the high court order, the Kerala State Beverages Corporation stopped all delivery of liquor based on doctors’ prescriptions.
Petitioner Pratapan said the government should identify alcoholics who have withdrawal symptoms and treat them at de-addiction centres.
Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala welcomed the court order, calling it a “heavy blow to the state government’s immoral order”.
“The high court has through its balanced approach saved society,” the Congress veteran said.
State excise minister T.P. Ramakrishnan clarified that the government was not encouraging people to drink.
“We have been urging people with withdrawal symptoms to get treatment,” he said, without delving into the stay order.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had already said that the government wanted all those with withdrawal symptoms treated at the state-run de-addition centres. He had clarified that doctors were free to reject requests for prescribing liquor.
The previous Congress-led coalition government, headed by Oommen Chandy, had taken the initial steps towards total prohibition by shutting down most private bars. But Vijayan’s Left Democratic Front government, which succeeded it, lifted the partial ban.