In a major decision, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government in Kerala has decided to not grant any new liquor licences for bars in three- and four-star hotels in the state and to close down all existing ones, except those in five-star hotels, in a phased manner.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy told newspersons here yesterday that sanction would not be given for reopening the 418 bars that are lying closed since April this year.
The 312 functioning bars in hotels below the five-star category would also be closed down, subject to legal advice, before the next financial year. After April 1, 2015, bars will function only in five-star hotels in the state, he said.
No new outlets of the state-owned Beverages Corporation will be opened. Apart from this, 10 per cent of its existing outlets will be closed each year. One per cent of the income of the Beverages Corporation would be utilised for creating awareness against consumption of liquor.
Mr Chandy said the campaign against the use of liquor would be strengthened, especially on campuses. The Clean Kerala, Safe Kerala campaign will also be strengthened, he said.
Mr Chandy said Sundays would be "dry days", taking the total number of liquor holidays to a minimum of 52 in a year.
. He said steps would be taken to lower the sales of liquor with strong alcohol content. He said the traditional toddy tapping industry and toddy tappers would be protected.
Toddy shops will be allowed to function after taking into consideration the availability of toddy, the number of coconut trees and number of workers.
"Though the UDF Government had taken several measures to limit the use of alcohol in Kerala, the Government is aware that it still continues as a social evil. This is having an adverse effect on the state, families and individuals in different ways. Under these circumstances the Government thinks that more measures are needed. It is expected that these steps would help to achieve the aim of no alcohol in Kerala," he said.
"Government is aiming to totally ban liquor in the state step by step in the coming 10 years. This is the most important decision taken in this regard. Kerala should get ready to imbibe the essence of total liquor ban in the State. Support of people is required for this. All help and support of the people of Kerala is requested for the effort of Government to achieve this great aim," he added.
The decision, taken in a meeting of the UDF leadership presided over by Mr Chandy, brings to an end a long battle within the coalition over the renewal of licences of 418 bars which reportedly failed to meet quality parameters. The UDF leadership will now formally recommend to the state government to act in this regard, following which the State Cabinet will take a decision on the issue.
The question of reopening the 418 closed bars had led to sharp divisions in the state unit of the Congress. State Congress President V M Sudheeran took a firm stand against renewal of their licences, while another section felt the government should adopt a practical approach and give the bar owners some time to upgrade their facilities and rectify shortcomings.
Some of the Congress' allies in the UDF had also expressed themselves in favour of curbing the consumption of alcohol in the state.