Kerala, India: Alcohol Outlets Are Re-Opening
Activists allege underhand deals and the government to be in the pocket of ‘liquor barons’ as prohibition is reversed and alcohol outlets open again, amidst political struggles.
When the Communist Party of India-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) took an ambiguous stand on re-opening liquor outlets closed by the United Democratic Front (UDF) government as part of its phased-prohibition policy during the 2016 Assembly elections in Kerala, many had viewed it as a sign of the party’s intention to reverse liquor policy if it returned to power in the state.
True to their fears, the LDF prepared the ground for a change in the policy as soon as they assumed power. The announcement of the policy allowing the reopening of all closed bars in three-star hotels and above, however, was deferred following the declaration of Lok Sabha by-election in Malappuram in March. By the time Ramakrishnan came out with the policy (in June), the 31 March Supreme Court verdict ban on the sale of liquor within 500 meters of state and national highways came on the way.
The government sought to overcome the obstacle by allowing relocation of liquor outlets to interior areas. Anticipating objections from local bodies, especially those ruled by the Opposition, the government stripped them of the power to sanction liquor outlets in their jurisdiction through an ordinance.
Despite these measures, only 77 of the over 700 closed bars had been reopened by the end of July. The government facilitated reopening of another 219 closed bars by de-notifying stretches of state highways passing through municipal areas. The government will be in a position to reopen the closed bars along national highways too following the recent apex court clarification that state and national highways passing through municipal limits will be exempt from its earlier ruling.
Around 1956 liquor outlets, including toddy shops, were shut down as a result of the March 31, 2017 Supreme Court order. This included 11 five star bars, 619 beer and wine parlours as well as 134 retail outlets of the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco), the sole wholesale and retail distributor of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) in the state.
Ending prohibition, catering to booze barons
The state government has given its nod for opening 466 liquor outlets, including 25 Bevco outlets within municipal and corporation limits, in the wake of the apex court clarification.
This literally marks the end to Kerala’s brief journey to become an alcohol-free state by 2023. The previous government had in September 2014 sought to turn the state totally dry like Gujarat by shutting down all bars immediately and retail outlets within ten years.
The Congress had earlier alleged a deal between the LDF and the bar owners to reopen the closed bars. Many in the party even believed that the liquor barons had used their money power to oust the UDF from power.
The LDF was hand in glove with the liquor barons.
There was a clear understanding between the two on the reopening of the bars before the election. The LDF government is acting on the understanding. We cannot do anything to stop them,” MVS general secretary Fr TJ Antony said while expressing his helplessness.