The Congress-led United Democratic Front will meet on Thursday to discuss on reopening of 418 bar hotels, whose liquor license has not been renewed since April this year. Renewal of license of these bars has been delayed in the wake of a Supreme Court order which asked the government to take a decision on these 418 bars, identified as sub-standard.
The issue has grown into fight between Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Congress state president V M Sudheeran after they adopted clashing positions over the issue. Last week, Kerala high court asked the government to examine all hotels for their facilities and submit a report on the same by August 26. Besides, the court wanted to peruse the state’s liquor policy, which restricted fresh liquor licence for five star hotels from this fiscal.
While Chandy wanted to allow reopening of bar hotels which meet the standard norms, Sudheeran has taken a firm no. Besides, he felt that the closure of these bars _ state has 753 total liquor bars in various categories_ has created a situation conducive for pushing forward the idea of prohibition.
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Several prominent Congress leaders are for a pragmatic approach, allows standard bars to function, Sudheeran has imbibed the spirit for the battle from the support he enjoys from Christian Churches, women outfits and social organizations.
The issue got a sudden twist on Wednesday when Chandy loyalist and senior leader M M Hassan called for a total prohibition. Hassan, who earlier called for a reopening of standard bars, changed the track indicating the political strategy of Chandy.
Congress sources said the call for total prohibition from Chandy side was a challenge to Sudheeran and his battery of supporters. “Total prohibition looks impractical and confounded with several pitfalls. At least 22 per cent of state’s revenue comes from liquor sale. Of the total liquor sale, 80 per cent of the business is dominated by state—owned BEVCO, sole distributor of Indian made foreign liquor in Kerala. Overnight, no sensible person can demand for total prohibition, although the ideal would gladden religious leaders. Hassan made the demand for total prohibition well aware of the issues that entails,’’ said a Congress leader.
Besides, total prohibition would require closure of toddy shops. The state has 4,000-odd licensed toddy shops, although not all outlets are functioning. The business is a major source of livelihood for thousands of toddy tappers among others. Toddy tappers in Kerala generally belong to backward Hindu Ezhava community.
Prominent Ezhava leader Vellappally Nateshan has already slammed the government for its failure to renew the liquor license of bar hotels. On Wednesday, he said, “A sub-standard religious and political leaderships in Kerala are deciding the quality of bar hotels in Kerala. Closure of bars will not bring in prohibition,” said Nateshan.