Thiruvananthapuram: The Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala on Thursday shocked the state's citizens when it announced it's decision to impose prohibition in a phased manner.
The ruling UDF has decided to shut down over 700 liquor bars attached to hotels below the five-star categories besides making Sundays "dry days".
The decision, taken in a meeting of the UDF leadership presided by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, also marked the resolution of the long-drawn feud in the state unit of the Congress and the coalition over the question of renewing licences of 418 bars which were found to be lacking in quality.
The decisions will be formally recommended to the Chandy Cabinet to act upon.
The UDF leadership had earlier resolved to take firm measures to bring down availability of liquor to the common man and take the state to its goal of "total prohibition" in a phased manner.
Briefing reporters after the meeting, Chandy said the 418 bars which had been lying closed since April this year would not be re-opened. Also, another 312 bars will be closed down, subject to legal advice.
In case there were some legal hitches in shutting them immediately, they would not be allowed to run business from the next financial year.
The decision would mean that only five-star hotels will have bars, Chandy said.
Regarding the retail sales through the outlets of state Beverages Corporation, the number of such outlets would be wound up by 10 per cent every year.
"In 10 years from now, Kerala will see prohibition in force," Chandy said.
Apart from the existing dry days, which include the first day of every month, all Sundays would be dry days in the state, taking the total liquor holidays to a minimum of 52 a year, it was decided in the meeting.
While the state-owned Beverages Corporation is the sole wholesaler of liquor in the state, there are 383 retail outlets also belonging to the state.
"We will rehabilitate all those who lose their jobs (in bars). They will be given soft loans to start self-employment programmes," he said.
"From this fiscal, we will set aside five percent of the revenue generated from the sale of liquor to a separate fund that will take care of rehabilitation schemes and also for launching a massive anti-liquor campaign," Chandy said.
The meeting also decided that the government will make efforts to promote the traditional toddy industry.
Incidentally, Kerala has one of the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country
Sudheeran said this was a "historic decision" that will be a boon for the people.
Finance Minister K.M. Mani said he was not worried of the over Rs.7,000 crore that will no longer come to the exchequer by way of taxes collected through sale of liquor every year.
"That's not an issue at all because we can find other ways," Mani said.
The question of renewing licences of closed bars had created sharp divisions in the Congress in the state. Ever since he took over the state unit, KPCC President V M Sudheeran had stood firmly against renewing licences to 418 bars temporarily closed on the basis of CAG reference on lack of proper amenities.
However, a section in the Congress was of the view that the government should adopt a more practical line on the issue by giving time to the bar owners to upgrade the facilities.
The key UDF partner Indian Union Muslim League also came out supporting the policy of reducing the availability of liquor.
The meet also decided to take up a massive anti-liquor campaign in the state for which one per cent of the sale turnover of the Beverages Corporation would be utilised. After the ban on arrack by the then A K Antony Ministry two decades ago, the Beverages Corporation has been the sole sales agency for Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL).
PMK chief wants TN to take cue from Ker in anti-liquor drive
Chennai: Lauding Kerala for its drive against liquor, PMK today asked Tamil Nadu government to take a cue and go in for phased or complete prohibition in the state. Party founder S Ramadoss, citing Kerala government statistics, said since the closing down of 418 liquor bars in that state, there has been a dip in incidents of drunken driving and crimes against women and children, among others.