'Kerala bar bribery’ audio lends Opposition ammo, government denies charges

The person is heard saying that a new liquor policy will be implemented after the Lok Sabha polls with many favourable changes.
Image used for representation
Image used for representation

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM : A decade after the bar bribery scandal rocked the then Oommen Chandy-led UDF regime, the LDF government was caught in a similar situation after an audio clip, purportedly sent by a bar association leader, asking money from bar owners to pay kickback to the government for a favourable liquor policy surfaced on Friday.

The Opposition UDF flayed the LDF and demanded the resignation of Excise Minister M B Rajesh alleging corruption. The BJP labelled it ‘Delhi model bribery’.

However, the CPM termed the charges baseless. Rajesh asked the state police chief to conduct a detailed probe into the allegations. The DGP is learnt to have referred the minister’s complaint to the crime branch. Both CPM and Rajesh also said they suspected a conspiracy behind the allegation.

The leaked clip, suspected to be sent by Federation of Kerala Bar Association Idukki district president Ani Mon to members during the executive meeting of the association in Kochi on Thursday, asks bar owners to give Rs 2.5 lakh each for tweaking the liquor policy to include their demands such as scrapping of the dry-day policy and extending operations of bars from 11pm to midnight.

The person is heard saying that a new liquor policy will be implemented after the Lok Sabha polls with many favourable changes. And to make it happen, “what needs to be given should be given”, the speaker is heard saying.

Discussions on liquor policy yet to begin, says min

No sooner did the clip surface than the UDF targeted Rajesh, with KPCC president K Sudhakaran demanding his resignation, alleging that the new liquor policy was to be implemented after taking Rs 25 crore as kickback from bar owners. “The government move aims to facilitate huge profits for bar owners, by doing away with the dry-day policy, opening pubs in IT parks and extending bar timings,” alleged Sudhakaran.

Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan alleged corruption to the tune of Rs 20 crore, as owners of the state’s 801 bars were allegedly being asked to pay Rs 2.5 lakh each.

“The fund collection demand will not be made without the knowledge of someone in the government,” Satheesan alleged in Kochi. He also claimed that those who had accused former finance minister K M Mani in a Rs 1-crore corruption scandal were now involved in a Rs 20-crore bribery scam.

“Where is the currency counting machine now? Is it with CM Pinarayi Vijayan, the excise minister or at the AKG Centre,” he asked.

“The first Pinarayi government granted licenses to 669 bars, and the second gave it to 130 bars. Relaxation in liquor policy aims to benefit bar owners,” he alleged. Rajesh rejected the allegations and said the government is yet to begin discussions on the policy. “For the past one month, there have been media reports on the policy. If anyone tries to collect money on the basis of such reports, the government will take strong action,” Rajesh said.

“The government filed 52 cases against bars in the past six months. Some might be uneasy with the government taking action against such people,” he said. He said contrary to UDF’s claims, the LDF government had increased licence fee from Rs 23 lakh to Rs 35 lakh.

“In the last liquor policy, the fee was hiked by Rs 5 lakh. How can UDF say the government is trying to tweak the policy in bar owners’ favour?” Rajesh wondered. The CPM leadership too termed the allegations baseless and dismissed calls for Rajesh’s resignation.

“Neither the government nor the party or the LDF has begun discussions on the policy. CPM does not formulate policies after taking kickback,” state secretary M V Govindan said. He said no changes had been made to the existing excise policy.

“The propaganda being spread over new decisions and discussions are entirely absurd. The KPCC president and Leader of Opposition are the ones leading such fake campaigns,” he alleged.

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