Kerala likely to become dry state in 10 years

Over 700 bars to close down, only those in five-star hotels to function

Kerala likely to become dry state in 10 years

Kerala moved a step closer to a long-debated possibility of prohibition on liquor after the Congress-led ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) on Thursday recommended a complete ban on its sale in the state phased over the next 10 years.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy told reporters after a meeting with coalition partners here that only bars in five-star hotels would remain open in the state from April 1, 2015.

The meeting was scheduled to iron out differences within the front over re-opening of 418 bars closed over poor maintenance standards.

The discussion threw up unexpected, stringent recommendations which, if implemented, could lead to major social changes in the state that has a high alcohol consumption and thousands grappling with addiction-related problems.

The recommendations will be evaluated by the state Cabinet and if cleared, submitted to the court as the state’s liquor policy.

Apart from the 418 closed bars, the 312 functioning bars will be closed by April 1 next year. The state will seek legal counsel on closing these bars where proprietors have already paid licence fees. The state-run beverages corporation (Bevco) will not open new outlets and cut down 10 per cent of the existing number every year.

“The United Democratic Front government had announced that no new Bevco outlet will be opened. The government has stuck to its stand over the past three years. Now on, 10 per cent of the existing number of outlets will be reduced every year,” Chandy said.

Revenue from sale of liquor in Kerala stood at above Rs 9,000 crore in the last fiscal. The state has already banned arrack since 1996.

The chief minister said those working in bars and Bevco outlets would be rehabilitated. Five per cent of Bevco’s annual revenues will be used to roll out rehabilitation schemes. The ruling front also recommended a ban on the sale of liquor on Sundays.

The closure of 418 bars in Kerala based on an expert committee’s evaluation of maintenance standards had snowballed into a political flashpoint after Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president V M Sudheeran – a fiery advocate for prohibition – faced criticism from even within his party.

Over the past couple of weeks, Sudheeran’s statements on the issue found more favour from senior alliance partners including Finance Minister K M Mani.

Some Congress seniors who initially found Sudheeran’s stand extreme and “impractical” later endorsed it after critics of the KPCC chief were being dubbed favouring liquor lobbies.

The UDF’s decision on Thursday could prop Sudheeran as a champion anti-liquor crusader.

With the prohibition move, the ruling front is also likely to mend fences with some sections of the Church who had been critical of the government’s liquor policy.

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