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Towards alcoholic Kerala; step by step

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Towards alcoholic Kerala; step by step
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“If LDF comes to power, a strong popular movement will be started for abstinence from alcohol. Stringent measures will be taken to cut down the consumption and availability of alcohol. LDF is committed to making Kerala liquor-free. There are comprehensive schemes to create awareness among the drinkers. And therefore, recognize those who lie; give your vote only to the LDF”.

These are the samples of the uninterrupted campaigns carried out by the LDF using film stars during the time of previous election ridiculing the steps introduced by the United Democratic front (UDF) government to curb the sale of liquor. However, the LDF government led by Pinarayi Vijayan has been highly enthusiastic in the matter of liquor after it came to power. The government who threw its weight behind the legal battles for reopening the bars shut down by the erstwhile government one by one, facilitated the easy availability of liquor by eliminating the knots of restrictions one after the other. The government that sought different ways to obtain revenue from alcohol is currently engaged in research for reaping maximum benefits of the court verdict. If the UDF had been preparing structural measures for liquor prohibition, LDF has been adopting a method of gradually letting alcohol flow freely in the state. The decision the other day, to 'contribute' about 700 more liquor shops to Kerala through the 'magic' of transforming the village panchayats into urban areas is the latest proof of that.

It does not become an issue how far behind a panchayat with a population of ten thousand is in matters such as availability of drinking water, roads without potholes and other basic facilities. Liquor shops should be opened there at any cost to immerse people in intoxication. If the eligibility for that is possessing urban nature, the government would stamp that label. And if the population is below 10,000, what is the option to get alcohol? The government has obtained the support of the court verdict’s interpretation for that as well. Even if the population does not make up the required minimum, a liquor can be opened there too provided if any tourist destination is within the panchayath,. The actions of the government ever since it came to power, proves that it has been looking for all possible ways to make liquor flow freely in the state. The government has been adopting steps for reopening the closed bars and facilitating loopholes for opening new ones, with a swiftness that was not visible in the cases of several promises in the election manifesto which still remain unfulfilled or crises faced by the government - ranging from the suicides in the private college sector to the devastating cyclone Ockhi. It was with haste that the Excise Commissioner directed to sanction the eligible applications according to the latest order.

The Supreme Court had on December 15, 2015 ordered a ban on liquor shops within 500 metres of national and state highways. The state government then decided to denotify the state highways according to the Highway Protection Act, 1999, akin to Chandigarh model to overcome this verdict. However, the Supreme Court came to the rescue by dropping the urban and municipality areas from this limit on March 31 and July 11, 2017. Kerala, along with Assam and Tamil Nadu states then demanded exemption of the Panchayaths as well from this restriction. Kerala in the affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court cited that about 30 per cent of land in the state was water and forest areas and that Karipur and Nedumbassery airports as well as tourist centres that attract national attention were in the Panchayaths, and therefore the state should be considered urban as a whole. This gives ample proof of the state government’s affinity towards liquor.

Now everything looks set for the government, with the court order that has come in handy that liquor shops can be opened even in panchayaths of urban nature and that state governments can decide which panchayaths fall into that category. The Pinarayi government has used this discretion to decide that panchayaths of 10,000 or more population are to be treated as urban and thus to make liquor availability wider. Given that the population threshold is 10,000, it is clear that almost all panchayaths of Kerala will fall in that category. What will remain by way of restrictions will only be the government-set minimum distance stipulated from places of worship, educational institutions, schedule caste/tribe colonies and graveyards: of 200 meters for liquor/toddy shops and bars in 3-star hotels and 50-meter distance for bars in hotels of 4-star and above. When the LDF government is apparently determined not let go of a single paisa revenue from liquor, one cannot expect it to show any laxity on that.

When the Left government serves liquor to whoever wants it, the government and the left leaders are also serving lies to tame those who oppose it. At the same time when they flatly deny the benefits derived by the state from prohibition, and when new outlets are opened by the day, they also spread the lie that they are seeking ways to reduce the consumption of liquor. And they also challenge the religious leaders who come out against the move to let liquor flow. Add to it the falsehood in the very next breath that the government is only reopening the same shops closed by the previous government with which they try to pacify critics. Thus while being wishy-washy on liquor policy, the Pinarayi government is in speedy efforts to turn Kerala into alcohol's own country. In such a situation, the future life and health of resourceful Kerala will hinge on the question whether lovers of humanity can raise a popular protest strong enough to beat that.

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