Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 22 IANS | 4 months ago

The Kerala government's intention to bring about prohibition in a phased manner has begun with a new liquor policy that will turn the state into a dry one in a decade.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who Friday finalised the new liquor policy, told reporters it will be submitted to the Kerala High Court Aug 26.

The United Democratic Front (UDF) arrived at the decision following state Congress president V.M. Sudheeran's tough stand when he, citing a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, argued that 418 bars with poor infrastructure in the state should not be given new licences this fiscal.

The issue reached the Kerala High Court which asked the government to come up with a new liquor policy, and also directed a two-member government committee to submit its report Aug 26 on the condition of these bars.

"Not only will the 418 bars that are closed now will not open, but the 312 bars that are open will be closed at the earliest. We have to settle their outstanding amounts and we have got legal opinion that we need not wait till this fiscal-end to close down these bars. From next year, only five star hotels will be serving liquor," said Chandy.

Kerala's sole liquor wholesaler is the state-owned Beverages Corporation and in all, there are 383 retail outlets.

"Starting Oct 2 this year, 10 percent of the retail outlets will close down and apart from the existing dry days, all Sundays will now be dry days. In 10 years' time, total prohibition will be in place in Kerala," said Chandy.

However, CPI-M politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said: "This is just an eyewash as total prohibition is not going to be practical and this sudden decision is just meant to settle down the issues in the Congress party."

Finance Minister K.M. Mani when asked if Chandy has usurped all the glory in his one stroke, said: "If the glory is there for the chief minister, we being his cabinet colleagues will also get the glory of this very excellent decision."

"No finance minister will like to become poorer, as there will be an estimated drop of Rs.1,811 crore this fiscal following the closing down of all the bars and 39 retail outlets. But the cause is more important as there has been a pending demand for bringing down liquor consumption," he told reporters.

After Chandy came out with the new policy, Hindu Ezhava leader Vellapaly Natesan was the first to tell reporters that some religious institutions (Christian churches) use wine and that should also be banned.

"Some churches even sell wine and this should also be stopped," said Natesan.

However, Syro Malabar Catholic Church spokesperson Paul Thelekkat said the wine issue was being given a "communal colour".

"The response of Natesan is not a criticism of the use of wine for the Holy Mass by the church but a type of lampooning which is distasteful as everyone knows of the sacred use of it. The excise department of Kerala knows it," said Thelekkat.

Chandy said the real concern will be to tackle the illicit liquor trade once the new policy comes into effect.

"This is a concern that we are having and it's for that we have decided to impose a five percent cess on all liquor that will be sold and this money would go into a corpus fund set aside for running anti-liquor campaigns -- to educate on the ill-effects of liquor and for rehabilitating employees who are as of now working in bars.

"We are giving a call to the people to contribute one day's income to a new fund which has been named as the Kerala Alcohol Education Research Rehabilitation Compensation Fund to be used for all these activities," said Chandy, adding he has already received the first contribution of Rs.1 lakh.

Friday evening, Chandy's office staff handed him Rs.1 lakh as their one day's salary towards the fund.

(Posted on 22-08-2014)

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