All-party meet on liquor vends suffers setback; Kerala to file petition in the apex court
Thiruvananthapuram, April 4: The Kerala government's decision on an all-party meet to discuss the apex court's ban on liquor vends along highways has got a jolt, with the Congress-led UDF supporting the ban.
Following this setback, a high-level meeting, chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday morning, asked Excise Commissioner Rishi Raj Singh to see that a petition is filed in the apex court.
The petition will seek three months' time to shift the 207 of the 850 retail liquor outlets owned by the state that come under the purview of the ban order.
The outlets have already downed shutters from April 1 in compliance with the Supreme Court directive of December 2016 banning liquor vends within 500 metres on either side of state and national highways.
"We are of the firm opinion that liquor is not good, but there are people in Kerala who have to consume it. If they don't get liquor, then they will be forced to drink other intoxicants, which could lead to their death," State Excise Minister G. Sudhakaran told reporters here, soon after the meeting.
"With this reality in mind before us, we will file the petition on Monday which will ask for three months' time to shift these outlets," Sudhakaran added.
Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy told reporters that the Left government is in a Catch-22 situation. The situation arose because they always opposed whatever the earlier government did, Chandy said.
"Our policy was based on the Udayabhanu Commission Report, that was appointed by K. Karunakaran, then A.K. Antony (1995) banned arrack," he said.
"When I was in office (in 2005) I decided to hit the road of total prohibition in 10 years time by reaching there in a phased manner," the Congress leader said.
But the Left, then in opposition, fought the UDF policy tooth and nail and gave an impression that "they had something up their sleeve", Chandy said adding "and now they are in dire straits".
"We are of the firm opinion that the apex court guidelines be followed and when a new retail outlet is opened, it has to be done where there is not going to be any opposition," he said.
It should not be done through confrontation, Chandy said, "As it's the women and children who protest the opening of the new vends".
State Finance Minister Thomas Issac is the one feeling the heat as the state stands to lose around Rs 10 crore revenue daily.
At least 1,749 places that used to sell liquor, beer, wine and toddy have not been able to carry on business since the commencement of the new fiscal.
"Things are tough on account of this revenue loss and hence we have to look for alternative revenues to make up for this loss," said Issac.
According to the latest estimates on account of the new order, around 24,000 workers have lost their job while another 10,000 indirect jobs have disappeared.
"Suicide is the only option left before me, as... with this new order I have lost my job. I have a family... if something does not happen quickly, then I really will have just one option," said an angry toddy shop worker.
On Tuesday, serpentine queues were seen in front of the remaining liquor vends and tipplers were up against this order.
"We need liquor everyday and if we don't get it, then we will start to distil our own brew. Let us see what will happen then," said an angry tippler.
Another innovative suggestion to end this impasse was to allow liquor to be sold through ration shops, as accountability would then be easy and streamlined.