Kerala to serve liquor only in five-star hotels, close Beverages Corp

Kerala, the state with one of the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country, is bidding farewell to booze. A meeting of the Congress-led UDF government today decided to shut down over 700 liquor bars attached to hotels below the five-star category besides making Sundays "dry days.''

Kerala to serve liquor only in five-star hotels, close Beverages Corp

Starting next fiscal, only five-star hotels in Kerala will be serving liquor, while the state will see prohibition in force in 10 years, chief minister Oommen Chandy said on Thursday.

State government-run Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco) will close down 10 per cent of its outlets every year. Bevco has 338 outlets while the Consumerfed has 46 outlets.

The meeting also decided not to reopen the 418 liquor bars that remained closed over licence issue.

"The 418 bars that were closed this fiscal will not reopen. We are now looking into the legal aspect of closing down the remaining 312 bars. We have to seek legal opinion because we have already collected the annual licence fee for this fiscal, and our aim is to see that these 312 bars are closed at the earliest," Chandy said after the UDF meeting.

"Starting from today, apart from the already declared dry days, henceforth all Sundays would be dry days," he said.

"From the next fiscal (2015-16), only five-star hotels will be serving liquor," he said.

Every year, 10 per cent of the retail outlets that sell liquor would be closed. "In 10 years from now, Kerala will see prohibition in force," Chandy said.

He said the government will rehabilitate all those who lose jobs by the closing down of the liquor outlets.

"We will rehabilitate all those who lose their jobs (in bars). They will be given soft loans to start self-employment programmes," he said.

"From this fiscal, we will set aside five per cent of the revenue generated from the sale of liquor to a separate fund that will take care of rehabilitation schemes and also for launching a massive anti-liquor campaign," Chandy said.

The meeting also decided that the government will make efforts to promote the traditional toddy industry.

The decision is victory for state Congress president VM Sudheeran's who took a tough stand that the 418 bars with poor infrastructure should not be given new licences this fiscal.

The issue reached the Kerala High Court, which has asked the government to come up with a new liquor policy, and also directed a two-member government committee to submit its report Aug 26 on the condition of these bars.

"Now that the UDF has taken the policy decision, the state cabinet will meet and take an official decision and it would be conveyed to the court," UDF convenor P.P. Thankachen said.

Sudheeran said this was a "historic decision" that will be a boon for the people.

Finance minister KM Mani said he was not worried of the over Rs7,000 crore that will no longer come to the exchequer by way of taxes collected through sale of liquor every year.

"That's not an issue at all because we can find other ways," Mani said.