The Pinarayi Vijayan-led Kerala government on Thursday approved a new liquor policy that will allow more than 700 closed bars in three and four star hotels to reopen.
The policy essentially reverses the previous government's policy which aimed to enforce total prohibition by 2025, said The Indian Express. Adverse impact of the old policy on the state’s tourism sector and loss of jobs were cited as reasons for the change. The chief minister said that the restrictions had caused the hotel industry to lose out on several conventions and an estimated 40,000 workers had lost their jobs.
The report further added that the new policy allows for sale of Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) in hotels having three and four-star classifications. Further, two-star hotels will be allowed to run beer/wine parlours. However, the bars will only be able get their licences renewed in accordance with the Supreme Court's recent directive which bans such vending within 500 metres from national and state highways.
The Indian Express report also said that the new policy has given significant relief to bars and hotels which had closed down following the Supreme Court's directive. These bars can use their existing liquor license if they relocate to a different premise within the same taluk.
Timing of bars has changed as well, they will now be open from 11 am to 11 pm, while in tourist places they will get an hour's extension and be open from 10 am to 11 pm. The minimum age to drink has changed as well. It has been raised from 21 to 23.
Vijayan said he has full regard for the anti-liquor campaigners but "this is not a feasible and practical solution" and hence they were forced to come out with the new policy. He said toddy will be allowed to be served in star hotels, which was not allowed earlier.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) recommended to the Vijayan government the new policy that will see more than 700 bars that were closed down reopen shortly, after completing all the licensing requirements.
Addressing reporters after the LDF meeting on Thursday, its convenor Vaikom Viswan said they have recommended to the state government that bar licences can be given to three and four — star hotels, and they should be allowed to serve toddy too in tourist areas.
"We have found that there has been no reduction in liquor consumption after the previous government's liquor policy was in force. Instead there was increase in illicit liquor and use of drugs. We also pointed out that a report of the Udayabanu Commission that studied about liquor in Kerala never recommended for prohibition. And mind you, Udayabanu was a staunch Gandhian too," said Viswan.
No sooner did the news surface of the recommendation, angry Church leaders and anti-liquor activists who were staging a protest in front of the Kerala Assembly on Thursday demanded the Vijayan government stick to the policy.
Archbishop of the Latin Diocese M Susaipakiam expressed deep sadness at the way the Left government had "cheated" them. "The Left government is overtly and covertly helping the liquor lobby. We will not sit idle and will continue our tirade against this evil," said Susaipakiam.
Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios, senior bishop of the Syro Malankara Church, also chairman of the Anti-Liquor Public Front, said: "Through this new policy, liquor is going to flow freely and figures reveal that when the bars were closed liquor sales fell by around 30 percent. Now unrest will start and the Left should not forget that the people voted them to power not for this."
Bishop Mar Remegiose Inchananiyil, of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, termed it an "irresponsible decision" by the Left government. State Congress president MM Hassan said the new policy is "a gift" of the Left to the liquor lobby for their service during the assembly elections.
"It has now become clear that the Left was behind the liquor lobby which was against our government after we brought out a liquor policy that. We will bring the people out to protest this move," said Hassan.
With inputs from IANS
Updated Date: Jun 09, 2017 09:44:22 IST