In a major move, the Kerala government on Thursday approved the new liquor policy under which all closed down bars in three and four -star hotels would be allowed to reopen. The timing of the bars has been changed from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., while in tourist places it will get an hour’s extension, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. The minimum age to drink liquor has also been raised from 21 years to 23. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, announcing the new policy, said he has full regard for the anti-liquor campaigners but “this is not a feasible and practical solution” and hence they were forced to come out with the new policy. He said toddy will be allowed to be served in star hotels, which was not allowed earlier.
These bars were closed two years ago during the previous Congress-led government, which sought to make Kerala a “dry” state with total prohibition on alcoholic drinks by 2023. Only five-star hotels were permitted to serve liquor. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said prohibition has been ineffective around the world because the record shows people go to any extent to get high, even narcotics. His government would rather give priority to abstinence than a blanket ban. “The previous government’s liquor policy was a flop, statistics show. There was no let-up in consumption. Besides, we have to consider the plight of 40,000 employees working in the sector,” he said.
The Congress, which is in the opposition now, rejected the chief minister’s remarks. “Our government closed the outlets in view of the alarming consumption rate. This government removed all restrictions. It is suicidal,” party leader Ramesh Chennithala said. Church organisations too criticised the government’s move, saying it is chasing money at the expense of people’s health. Liquor revenue accounts for around 25% of the Rs 40,000 crore the state earns from various taxes and services.