Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala Government on Saturday issued an order on new Abkari (excise) policy in accordance with its decision to shut down 730 liquor bars attached to hotels below five-star categories and phase out state-owned retail outlets, as part of its move towards total prohibition by 2023.
The order made it clear that henceforth licence to run liquor bars would be given only to five-star hotels and licence of 312 bars now functioning would be cancelled. It also mentioned that the 418 bars which remained closed since April last would not be allowed to function.
In a significant decision, the congress-led ruling UDF had on Thursday recommended the new liquor policy with view to reducing the availability of liquor in the state to achieve its goal of `total prohibition by 2023`.
The order also mentioned about the phasing out Beverages Corporation liquor outlets by ten percent every year (around 39 shops per year) to wipe out them in 10 years.
Government also announced a slew of initiatives, including enforcement of Kerala Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act (Goonda Act) to meet the challenge and consequences the state would face in the aftermath of new policy.
Addressing a press conference, Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said persons involved in illicit liquor trade and also those who patronage such business would be dealt with firmly, if necessary under the Goonda Act.
Special monitoring system would be put in place on state borders to check flow of illicit spirit to Kerala, he said.
Seeking to put an end to the political debate over the new policy, Chennithala said it was a unanimous decision of UDF taking into consideration anti-liquor views expressed by heads of various social and religious organisations in the state.
Refusing to be drawn into controversy with regard to the report that KPCC president VM Sudheeran had tried to portray a section in the party as those who support liquor lobby, he said now the decision had come and Sudheeran too extended full support to the policy.
However, to a question on Sudheeran`s statement (before the decision to implement the new policy), that government was trying to reopen the closed bars through court orders, he said "such remark" should have been avoided.
Chennithala congratulated Chief Minister Oommen Chandy for "the bold" decision he had taken on the issue and said the latter held discussions with him before finalising the policy.
Chandy had stated yesterday that his life was an open book and no one can show him as a person in favour of liquor lobby.
The new liquor policy makes it clear that only five-star hotels will have bars offering Indian Made Foreign Liquor.
Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly VS Achuthanandan (CPI-M) had termed the new policy a "political gimmick".