India's Kerala High Court upholds alcohol ban

A British tourist drinks beer at a restaurant in Kerala, 9 September 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Businesses are worried that the proposed ban may hit tourism

The Kerala High Court has upheld the state government's decision to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol to tackle the state's drink problem.

The order means that nearly 700 bars as well as some shops will be shut in a move towards total prohibition.

Bar owners and hoteliers who challenged the government order say they will now appeal in the Supreme Court.

Kerala has India's highest per capita alcohol consumption at more than eight litres per person yearly.

The national annual average for alcohol consumption is estimated to be about 5.7 litres per person.

"The court has approved our prohibition policy... The long-term ban plan will stay and the state will be free of alcohol in 10 years," K Babu, the state's excise minister, told the BBC.

In August, Kerala announced plans to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol and said it aimed to enforce total prohibition within 10 years.

The plans include shutting down bars and shops selling alcohol and introducing more alcohol-free days. It said only luxury hotels would be allowed to serve alcohol.

Bar owners say the move is discriminatory and affects their business. They also fear that it will deter tourists.

Doctors and activists have highlighted rising alcohol abuse, blaming it for many road accidents and even marital breakdown. They say hospitals and rehabilitation centres in Kerala are packed with patients suffering from alcohol-related diseases.

Correspondents say it is not clear how the government plans to recover lost earnings from alcohol sales, which by one estimate accounts for more than 20% of revenues in the state's annual budget.

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