The decision of the LDF government to reopen more liquor outlets step by step proves their determination to drown Kerala in alcohol.
The state government without causing any hullaballoo, is fervently trying for an increase in revenue by completely pandering to the abkari lobby. Since the Beverages Corporation has announced a bonus of Rs 85, 000 to its employees owing to good profits, all employees even those in ranks of Tahasildars are taking efforts to get into Bevco. The Pinarayi government is heaving a sigh of relief as the Opposition that does not ideologically oppose this liberal approach, has toned down their protests and the government has also been successful in taming the anti-liquor protestors including the Christian outfits who have been in the forefront of agitations. The move of the government is to allow free flow of alcohol in the state using all loopholes by toppling the decision of the United Democratic Front to make Kerala a complete liquor-free state step by step within ten years.
During the election campaigns, in order to not lose votes, CPM General Secretary Sitaram yechury had vowed that liquor shops that were closed down wouldn’t be reopened. However, after the massive victory the LDF government was feverishly trying to reopen the closed outlets one by one. The request of Tourism Minister A C Moideen came first. He demanded reopening liquor bars at least in tourist attractions in the state. Considering the demand, the Excise Minister said that provisions could be made while reviewing the Abkari policy. But when the liquor policy was formulated, the closed liquor outlets in three-star hotels and those above were reopened. The declaration of the liquor policy itself was a prerequisite to sabotage the ban through measures like obtaining special permission to serve liquor in banquet halls of two-star hotels and giving permission to the outlets that will be shut down following the Supreme Court order banning sales of alcohol within 500 metres of national and state highways if a plot was found in the same taluk. The Chief Minister had said then that prohibition was impractical. The government was overcoming the opposition by the locals with the help of an ordinance. Of the 700 bars that were closed down along the national and state highways, only 77 outlets could be opened during the first phase. The highways that pass through the Municipalities and Corporations were de-notified for reopening the remaining 219 outlets. The distance of 500 metres reduced to 220 metres in Municipal areas augmented the government move. Earlier, 1956 outlets including 11 five-star hotels, 619 beer/wine parlours and 134 beverages corporation outlets were shut down following the Supreme Court order. When the apex court relaxed its order, it paved way for the state government to reopen 466 more bars.
With things going as intended, the state government is present looking for new ways to allow free flow of alcohol. The decision to open more bars by denotifying the state highways passing through the Corporations and Municipalities is part of this strategy. The government targets the new special grade Panchayats. According to the reports, whether the special grade Panchayats that has more population and revenue would come under the Supreme Court order is being examined. The status of the state highways in these Panchayats is changed by relating them with the borders of prominent towns in the panchayats. Since that would create issues including those related to the utilization of funds, the Public Works Department is not happy with the move. The status of highways was changed in order to overcome the Supreme Court order. However they resuming their status with the changed court order, the government believes that the new denotification wouldn’t pose problems. If the special grade Panchayats too could be included in such a category, ninety per cent of the bars closed due to the UDF government’s liquor policy, could be reopened.
Only a few bars in the village Panchayats, special grade Panchayats and national highways would remain then. The LDF government is frantically making attempts to restore the bars shut down by the Oommen Chandy government. The government is also seeking ways to ignore, as well as appease the protestors. The election promise of the LDF government that ‘everything will be alright’ has been fulfilled by the Pinarayi government at least in the case of clearing the obstacles in the path of their liquor policy. The bumper bar prize for Onam proves just that.