Kerala liquor policy: Congress drops its stand, agrees to sail with govt

Bar hotel owners had alleged they had paid a bribe of Rs 1 crore to K M Mani to get the licence of 418 bars renewed.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: January 7, 2015 5:53:24 pm

Congress state president V M Sudheeran climbed down from his stubborn stand on liquor policy realizing that the government led by Oommen Chandy has finally its way. After a meeting of party-government co-ordination panel, Sudheeran on Wednesday said the party was against diluting the new liquor policy, but the party and the government would sail together. This would mark a ceasefire between the party and the government over liquor policy.

Sudheeran told the media that the KPCC has strong objection to the government decision to give beer and wine parlour licence for 418 bars closed down since April, but the conflicting stand on liquor policy would not impact the coordinated running of the government and the party. “The party would continue to campaign for total prohibition. None has gone back from the liquor policy. The changes are quite natural,” he said.

Sudheeran did not make a blistering attack against the government as he had used to do in the past over the liquor policy. He has been isolated in the party over his earlier adamant stand on the issue.

The new liquor policy, which envisaged closure of 730 bar hotels and total prohibition in a decade, had emerged from the show of strength between Chandy and Sudheeran. However, bribery charges against senior minister K M Mani, setback in the tourism and hotel industry, loss of job for 20,000-odd workers and adverse court verdicts made the government to tweak its new liquor policy.

Besides, Congress allies except Indian Union Muslim League also softened their approach. Although Sudheeran stuck to his adamant stand, Chandy had managed to win the support of almost the entire Congress legislators. Last month, after an informal meeting of the Congress legislators, Chandy categorically said the changes in the l

Bar hotel owners had alleged they had paid a bribe of Rs 1 crore to Finance Minister K M Mani to get the licence of 418 bars renewed. Although Mani had denied the allegation, the Vigilance has registered a case after a quick verification. The allegation had contributed to weakening of the government stand.

The labour and tourism departments reported to the government that the closure of bars and changes in liquor policy had led to loss of jobs and cancellations of room bookings. A dozen workers had committed suicide after the loss of bar jobs.

Meanwhile, the high court had stayed the decision to close down all bars except in the category of five-star, by the second week of September. In its subsequent interim orders, the court allowed the bars to function until the disposal of the petitions. The court not only brought out the existing four star hotels from the purview of the liquor ban also asked the government to issue fresh liquor licences for new applicants in the four star category.

As another strategy, Chandy tried to wean away the Catholic Church, which has been the main supporter of Sudheeran in the liquor policy. Chandy met Bishop R Inchananiyil, chairman of anti-liquor committee of Kerala Catholic Bishops Council, convince the bishops body about the government decision to convert all foreign liquor bars to beer parlours.

At the same time, his Cabinet colleagues belonging to Catholic Church tried to expose the double standard of the Church towards the liquor. The ministers said the Bishops should turn the mirror on the Church to see which community has major stake in the liquor business and the rampant boozing culture among the Christians.

Earlier this week, 200-odd liquor bars resumed operation as beer parlours as per the changes in the new liquor policy. The Church, which had earlier threatened to pull down the government over reopening of the bars, did not raise a whimper of protest when the outlets became beer hubs.

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