Always taken anti-liquor stand: Kerala excise minister

Thiruvananthapuram, Sep 13: The Congress-led United Democratic Front has always taken an anti-liquor stand to bring in prohibition in a phased manner, Kerala Excise Minister K. Babu said on Saturday.

Babu told IANS that the first file he inked after assuming charge as excise minister in 2011 was to cancel the permission given by the outgoing V.S. Achuthanandan government (2006-11) for opening 14 new retail liquor outlets and since then despite numerous recommendations, not a single new retail outlet had been opened.

Wholesale and retail trade in liquor in Kerala is handled by state-run agencies and there are 383 retail liquor shops. Besides these retail outlets, there are 710 bars in various star categories and 20 five star hotels that have bars.

"During the five years of the Achuthanandan government they sanctioned 152 bars, while we gave sanction for 60 bars and another 39 bars was sanctioned after the court directed to do so," Babu said in an interview.

He said the UDF manifesto was loud and clear and it was to achieve prohibition in a phased manner. "And that's what we are up to."

A Supreme Court bench of Justice Anil R. Dave and Justice U.U. Lalit this week asked the Kerala High Court to hear a plea by the bar owners who have challenged the Kerala government notification asking them to down shutters. The order was effective Sep 11 but the apex court said they need not close till Sep 30.

The apex court directed the state government to file an affidavit Tuesday and the bar owners to file their counter-affidavit Thursday besides directing the High Court not to postpone the case.

"This Tuesday we are filing our affidavit at the Kerala High Court as directed by the Supreme Court in the case that was given by the bar owners association. Every action that we have taken after our government assumed office clearly shows our seriousness that our aim is to achieve prohibition in a phased manner," said Babu.

Babu also pointed out that the government's efforts to achieve total prohibition include reducing the availability of liquor.

"When we assumed office, we reduced the timings of the bars, reduced the maximum stock that a bar can hold at a given time, we saw that statutory warnings are issued in cinema halls with regards to liquor besides running numerous campaigns against liquor," said Babu.

As per the new liquor policy, only five star hotels and the 383 state-owned retail liquor shops will be open, with 10 percent of these retail outlets closing down every year and total prohibition being achieved by Oct 2, 2023.

"We are confident that we have put things in perspective and now we will see what the court has to say," said Babu.


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