The ruling Congress-led UDF in Kerala has decided to shut down over 700 liquor bars attached to hotels below the five-star categories besides make Sundays "dry days." The decision, taken in a meeting of the UDF leadership presided by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, also marked the resolution of the long-drawn feud in the state unit of the Congress and the coalition over the question of renewing licences of 418 bars which were found to be lacking in quality.
The decisions will be formally recommended to the Chandy Cabinet to act upon. The UDF leadership had earlier resolved to take firm measures to bring down availability of liquor to the common man and take the state to its goal of "total prohibition" in a phased manner. Briefing reporters after the meeting, Chandy said the 418 bars which had been lying closed since April this year would not be re-opened.
Also, another 312 bars will be closed down, subject to legal advice. In case there were some legal hitches in shutting them immediately, they would not be allowed to run business from the next financial year. The decision would mean that only five-star hotels will have bars, Chandy said. Regarding the retail sales through the outlets of state Beverages Corporation, the number of such outlets would be wound up by 10 per cent every year.
Apart from the existing dry days, which include the first day of every month, all Sundays would be dry days in the state, taking the total liquor holidays to a minimum of 52 a year, it was decided in the meeting. The question of renewing licences of closed bars had created sharp divisions in the Congress in the state. Ever since he took over the state unit, KPCC President V M Sudheeran had stood firmly against renewing licences to 418 bars temporarily closed on the basis of CAG reference on lack of proper amenities.
However, a section in the Congress was of the view that the government should adopt a more practical line on the issue by giving time to the bar owners to upgrade the facilities. The key UDF partner Indian Union Muslim League also came out supporting the policy of reducing the availability of liquor. The meet also decided to take up a massive anti-liquor campaign in the state for which one per cent of the sale turnover of the Beverages Corporation would be utilised. After the ban on arrack by the then A K Antony Ministry two decades ago, the Beverages Corporation has been the sole sales agency for Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL).