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Time Running out for Government to Crack Puzzling Bar Code

Even as the deadline set by the High Court ends tomorrow, the government caught between a pro-prohibition KPCC prez and his ‘pragmatic’ opponents shows symptoms of policy paralysis

Published: 12th August 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th August 2014 01:12 PM   |  A+A-

Bar

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The state government is yet to reach a decision on the liquor policy even as the deadline set by the Kerala High Court ends on Wednesday. With differences within the UDF on licence renewal of the 418 closed bars yet to be sorted out, the state government will in all likelihood request the court to grant more time, sources said.

The UDF continues to be trapped in a bitter tug-of-war over the liquor policy with KPCC chief V M Sudheeran remaining steadfast in his opposition towards the renewal of licences. Excise Minister K Babu said on Monday that the government has not finalised any decision. “No decision has been taken yet. We are groping in the dark,” he said.

Since April this year, 418 of the total 753 bars in the state have been lying shut with the state government sitting on the formulation of the liquor policy. On June 3, the Kerala High Court had ordered the government to finalise a decision on licence renewal of the 418 bars within a month. In July, the government had sought an extension of the deadline, which was granted, even though bar hotel owners argued that the government was engaging in delay tactics. Passing the orders on a batch of petitions filed by bar hoteliers, the court observed that liquor was not an essential commodity. The court also noted that the government would need more time to decide as the Indian Medical Association had sought the closure of bar hotels functioning within 200 metres of hospitals.

The government and the Excise Department are yet to take a decision regarding the massive volume of liquor lying unused in the 418 bars. Indian Made Foreign Liquor and beer worth `250 crore are ‘idling’ in bars, said A Rajkumar Unni, state president, Kerala Bar Hotels Association (KBHA).

Liquor Intake down

In the first three months of the ‘bar controversy’, liquor sales of the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco) plummeted by over 60,086 cases compared to corresponding period in 2013.

During April, May and June 2013, Bevco sold 60,84,495 cases of IMFL and beer. This dipped to 60,24,409 cases during the same three months of 2014, when more than half of the bars in the state were lying shut.

In April 2013, Bevco outlets sold 20,38,072 cases, which came down to 19,65,024 cases in April 2014. Similarly, in May, sales went down from 22,10,410 in 2013 to 21,31,740 in 2014. In June though, sales were slightly up from 18,36,013 cases in 2013 to 19,27,645 cases. The figures for July have not been released yet, Bevco officials said.

“This is a very welcome sign. With chances of easy availability decreasing, the consumption has also gone down,” said Johnson Edayaranmula, director, Alcohol and Drug Information Centre-India (ADIC).

“The real change has come in the case of occasional users of alcohol, and especially in the case of beer consumption,” he said.

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