Effectively reversing the previous Congress government’s liquor policy which envisaged total prohibition by 2025, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front Government (LDF) on Thursday unveiled a new liquor policy for Kerala that allows sale of Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) in hotels having three and four-star classifications. As per the new policy, two-star hotels will be allowed to run beer/wine parlours. However, licences of liquor bars and beer parlours would be renewed only as per the recent directive of the Supreme Court which bans such vending within 500 m from national and state highways.
The new policy has given significant relief to bars and hotels which had to be closed down following the recent directive of the SC. These bars can now be relocated to another premises within the same taluk on the existing liquor licence. To give a boost to the traditional toddy business in Kerala, bar hotels will be allowed to sell toddy, too.
The new liquor policy was announced by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan after it was ratified at a meeting of the LDF co-ordination committee. As per the policy announced by the Congress government in 2014, the sale of liquor was allowed in only five-star hotels.
Other bars and hotels were allowed to function as beer and wine parlours. However, most of them had to be shut down since April this year following the Supreme Court verdict.
“The liquor policy of UDF, which envisaged total prohibition, was a complete fiasco,” said Vijayan. “The UDF policy was impractical and had led to an alarming rise in the use of drugs. The LDF police aims at abstinence. The government will start more de-addiction centres and will strengthen the existing ones.’’
Justifying the change, Vijayan said the UDF policy had severely impacted the state’s tourism sector. The state’s tourism and hotel industry had lost several conventions and meetings due to the policy and an estimated 40,000 workers had lost their jobs, he said.
The Chief Minister said as per the new liquor policy, the functioning of the liquor bars was limited from 11 am to 11 pm. The minimum age for purchasing liquor was increased from 21 to 23.
He said bars and beer parlours, which had to be shut down as per the Supreme Court directive, would be allowed to function in premises 500 m away from highways only if they gave jobs to their existing workers.
Liberalising the availability of liquor, the government decided to allow serving of liquor in banquet halls in hotels after paying an amount as fee. Besides, liquor would be available at domestic launches of airports in Kerala.
The Chief Minister said following the Supreme Court restriction on sale of liquor along highways, out of 715 beer parlours, 474 will remain closed. Of 306 retail liquor outlets, 96 could not be relocated. Besides, 922 toddy shops will also stay closed.
Slamming the changes, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said the government had betrayed the people. “The Government has succumbed to the liquor lobby and bar/hotel owners. I don’t want to say now how much money the government has pocketed from bar/hotel owners,’’ said Chennithala.
BJP president Kummannam Rajasekharan said the Left government, which came to power promising to reduce liquor consumption, had “cheated” people.