View attachment 39960 THIRUVANANTHAPURAM – The excise policy of the Congress-led United Democratic Front government, finalized in a two-hour meeting held at the chief minister's official residence here on Thursday, proposed to make Kerala alcohol-free in 10 years.
"The UDF has come out with a unanimous decision for a liquor ban in the state to achieve total prohibition,'' chief minister Oommen Chandy said after the meeting. The UDF recommendation will be shortly ratified by the state cabinet following which it would be conveyed to the Kerala High Court as a policy decision.
As a first step, 418 bars closed since April 1 as they had failed to upgrade to two-star facilities, won't have their licenses renewed. Similarly, licenses of 312 functioning bars in the state won't be renewed after March 31, 2015. The government will also seek the legal possibility of terminating the licenses of these 312 bars immediately.
From April 1, 2015, only five star hotels - there are 23 in the state -- will be granted bar licenses. The excise policy draft is mum on the status of 111 beer/wine parlours in the state, but sources in the UDF said they will be allowed to function.
The UDF also decided to phase out Beverages Corporation (Bevco) outlets in the state which sell liquor in the retail sector. The 334 outlets functioning in 14 districts will be phased out by winding up 10% of the outlets every year. Bevco outlets won't sell liquor on Sundays, in addition to first day of every month which are currently observed as dry days.
Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of liquor in the country at 8.3 litres. Punjab comes second with 7.9 litres, while the national per capita consumption of liquor is 4 litres.
Apart from the doubtful efficacy of total prohibition, Chandy risks putting more pressure on an already sluggish economy. The state would incur a loss of Rs 8,000 crore due to the ban that is more than one-third of the state government's annual plan outlay.
The state will have to forgo revenue from an industry which had contributed Rs 8,150 crore and Rs 8,433 crore in 2012-13 and 2013-14, respectively. The damage the decision would bring on Tourism and IT industries - the two pillars on which the state's economy is riding - is yet to be quantified.
"The aim is to achieve the target of a liquor-free Kerala in 10 years. We are fulfilling one more promise in the UDF manifesto," Chandy said. Truth is, Chandy's hand was forced as KPCC president V M Sudheeran, who is in the forefront of the campaign for prohibition, has been garnering immense popular support and emerging as an alternative power centre.
Sudheeran, who considered non-renewal of licenses of the closed bars as non-negotiable, had also got the support of Indian Union Muslim League and Kerala Congress (M), the other two big parties in the UDF. In Congress, too, leaders rallied behind Sudheeran on the issue.
The Catholic Church and Muslim organizations also demanded that the government move towards prohibition. On Thursday, hours before the announcement of the decision, Cardinal Baselios Mor Cleemis warned the government to get ready to be thrown out if it renewed the licenses of closed bars.
"The only option for Chandy to gain lost ground was to go to the other extreme. He did it and scored a point," said a senior Congress leader.
The Times of India
22nd August 2014
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