Thiruvananthapuram | Welcoming the Kerala High Court verdict upholding its new liquor policy that restricted foreign liquor bars to five-star hotels, Congress-led UDF government today said the order would come into effect from tonight itself resulting in the shut down of 300 bars below the prescribed category operating now.
Hailing the verdict, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who is now in Dubai, told the media that the verdict is another step towards the realisation of a liquor-free Kerala in the long run. The verdict clearly shows that the liquor policy adopted by the government was correct, he said.
State Excise Minister K Babu told reporters here, Henceforth, only 24 five star classified hotels in Kerala will serve foreign liquor in bars and the rest of bar hotels would be closed by 10.30 tonight. The 300 bars were now operating on the strength of court order and with today’s verdict they will also be closed, Babu said.
There were more than 700 odd bars below the category of five star hotels functioning in the state when government brought in the new liquor policy in August last. As an immediate fallout, 418 bars were closed.
However, following criticism that the policy would adversely affect tourism sector and taking into consideration the plight of those who lost jobs in the closed bars, government decided to sanction beer and wine parlour license to these bars with a condition that they should be hygienic.
The verdict is a clear recognition of government’s policy that envisaged reduction in the availability of foreign liquor in phased manner with an objective to have total prohibition in ten years time, Babu said. There would be a reduction of 90 per cent in the availability of foreign liquor in the state with the closing of bars below the five star category, he pointed out. Babu said as part of the policy, the now closed 300 bars also would be given licence to run beer and wine parlours if they wanted it.
The policy also proposed to close down 10 per cent of retail outlets of State Beverages Corporation every year, the sole retail and wholesale agency that sold foreign liquor in the state. As part of the policy, an average of 39 outlets would be closed every year with a plan to shut down all outlets within ten years. A jubilant KPCC President V M Sudheeran, who was on a campaign for total prohibition, said it was a landmark judgement.
The verdict will speed up government’s aim to make total prohibition in the state by 2025, he told reporters at the KPCC headquarters here, adding that As a public servant, I am very happy today. The new policy has been a topic of discussion in the state right from the day of its announcement last August, triggering differences in the Congress leadership.
The policy was even seen widely as an outcome of pressure from Sudheeran, who opposed renewal of bar licence to 418 bars on March 31 last year. As a fallout of the policy, causing embarrassment to the government, working president of Kerala Bar Hotel Owners’ Association Biju Ramesh levelled corruption charges against Finance Minister K M Mani in November following which Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau registered a graft case against Mani.
The allegation was that Mani had taken a bribe of Rs 1 crore and demanded more to facilitate the opening of closed 418 bars. Chandy and Mani had denied the allegations and UDF had extended full support to Mani. However seizing on the issue, opposition CPI(M)-led LDF attacked the government on the matter and demanded Mani’s resignation.
The budget session of the Assembly saw unprecedented violence when LDF members tried to prevent Mani from presenting the budget on March 13 this year.
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