(Recasts, adding details from order) Kochi, Jul 7 (PTI) Health is more important than revenue, the KeralaHigh Court said on Wednesday to the state government over its 'failure' to ensure COVID protocols are followed outside state-run Beverages Corporation's liquor vends which saw overcrowding in various places.
A bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly said that Kerala presently was at no.1 in COVID cases among all the states and while the state was trying hard to reduce the number of infections by taking appropriate measures, crowdingat public places, more particularly in liquor shops, should not be allowed.
'...it is to be added that as of today, the State of Kerala stands No.1 in COVID-19 cases.Government, on the one hand, is trying to reduce the number of COVID cases, by taking appropriate measures, vaccination, etc.Simultaneously, crowding at public places should not be allowed, more particularly, in liquor shops.Health is more important than revenue,' the court said.
The bench further said that eventhough periodical orders were issued by the central and state governments regarding COVID protocol guidelines, 'they do not seem to be observed in letter and spirit at some places, particularly liquor shops'.
'It is clearly mentioned in the above orders (of the Centre and states) that any lapse in following the restrictions would be viewed seriously.But we find that no action is taken against the defaulters so far,' the bench said.
The bench was hearing two PILs, one filed by a lawyer - Vijayan - who has sought directions to the state to prevent overcrowding outside liquor vends during the pandemic,and the second initiated by the High Court on its own based on a letter by one of its judges on the same issue.
Perusing the photographs submitted along with the letter and the petition by Vijayan, the court noted that there was large-scale gathering or big queues in front of liquor shops.
'Photographs depict that social distancing is not maintained. These shops are located on roadsides and near to residential buildings.' '... it is apparently evident from the photographs produced along with these writ petitions, there is violation of COVID protocol,' the bench said and sought a detailed report from the state government on the 'failure to observe COVID protocol in the shops shown in the photographs'.
'The Excise Commissioner is also directed to file a detailed statement regarding the failure to follow COVID protocol guidelines in these shops,' it added and listed the two pleas for hearing on July 13.
Advocate C Rajendran, who represented Vijayan, told the bench that the photographs show 'overcrowding outside the liquor outlets with the police standing there asmute spectators'.
According to the petition, filed through advocate B K Gopalakrishnan, the state government had prohibited sale of alcohol in Kerala during the second wave of COVID-19 and liquor shops were reopened only on June 17.
However, as the government decided to increase the wholesale profit of BEVCO, the sole distributor of liquor in the state, from 8 per cent to 25 per cent, bars and hotels were forced to close sales of all kinds of alcohol except beer, the plea has claimed.
As a result, despite the COVID-19 infection rate being above 10 per cent, people thronged liquor outlets of BEVCO, without following the protocols on social distancing, to purchase alcohol as it was not available elsewhere.
The state government claimed in the court that appropriate directions have already been issued by it, regarding the opening of these shops and maintenance of COVID protocol, including social distancing.
It also told the bench that suitable action would be taken to avoid crowding and queue, at the liquor shops and that strict compliance of COVID protocol would be ensured in all the liquor shops run by BEVCO.
BEVCO told the court that liquor shops were closed for a few days and were opened onJune17 and thatwas the reason for the queues.PTI HMP BN BALA BN BALA