Kerala govt to reopen 150 bars

Kerala govt to reopen 150 bars

Age limit for liquor consumption raised

Kerala govt to reopen 150 bars

The CPM-led Left Democratic Front government in Kerala on Thursday played by the script and announced an expected overhaul of the state’s excise policy, re-opening all bars in the three- and four-star categories.

The first phase of the new policy’s implementation will see about 150 closed bars in the four- and three-star categories regain their FL3 licences and reopen. Proprietors of most of the closed bars had gone for beer and wine parlour licences.

The previous Congress-led United Democratic Front government’s controversial liquor policy had led to the closure of all bars outside of the five-star category, on March 31, 2015.

The new policy, set to be in operation from July 1, increases the age limit of liquor customers from 21 to 23 years. The government has also altered the opening hours of bars – from 9.30 am to 10 pm to 11 am to 11 pm. In tourism zones, the bars will be open from 10 am to 11 pm.

The Cabinet okayed the policy on Thursday following “recommendations” made to this effect at an LDF meeting. The government is committed to implement the Supreme Court directive to close down liquor outlets located 500 metres from the state and national highways.

Announcing key points of the new excise policy here, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the overhaul was in line with the LDF’s proclaimed stance favouring abstinence over prohibition of liquor.

“Prohibition has not worked anywhere. After the closure of bars, substance abuse has increased. People who would go to any extent to get intoxicated are proving to be a threat to the society,” he said.

At present, there are 23 hotels operating with FL-3 (bar) licences to serve Indian Made Foreign Liquor, apart from 34 clubs, 474 beer and wine parlours and 210 state-run retail outlets.

The new policy allows issuance of beer and wine parlour licences to two-star bars. Proprietors of many two-star bars are set to upgrade properties to attain three-star status. “Since the Supreme Court order regarding outlets along highways is in place, the number of new bars will be less than what it was,” Vijayan said.

Proprietors of 586 beer and wine parlours closed following the apex court order can apply for fresh licences in the same taluks, with properties adhering to the court stipulations.

The chief minister acknowledged concerns of anti-liquor groups, specifically the Catholic Church, but said prohibition was an impractical response to alcoholism. The policy overhaul was triggered by revenue loss in the tourism sector due to the closure of bars.

Reviving toddy
The new policy proposes measures to revive toddy-tapping as a commercially viable trade. Toddy can now be served in bars in three-star and higher categories. The state will also form a Toddy Board to address issues of the industry and protect the workers’ interests.

Politics of liquor
The ruling Left has maintained that the UDF government’s liquor policy was the result of a power struggle between former chief minister Oommen Chandy and former state Congress president V M Sudheeran. With both losing prominence, the government is set to put a formidable resistance against the opposition, most of it set to come from the church.

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