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Liquor, liquor everywhere!

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Liquor, liquor everywhere!
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The Left Front government, led by Pinarayi Vijayan, has decided to allow bars in IT parks in Kerala and to introduce a special licensing system for this purpose. This idea was announced by Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal in his last budget speech. Although the opposition and civil society expressed their opposition at the time, the government has been moving forward, completely ignoring them. Finally, the Legislative Assembly Subject Committee has also given its approval for the said decision. Once the licences are issued, companies in IT parks will be able to sell and serve alcohol in their premises. Eight years ago, the Left Front came to power on the 'anti-liquor' platform and against the bar scam and liquor policy of the previous UDF government led by Oommen Chandy. Their election manifesto in 2016 read: "The Left Democratic Front government will adopt a policy that will gradually reduce the availability and consumption of liquor. The government will intervene more strongly than ever to promote abstinence. For this, a comprehensive mass awareness campaign will be formed on the model of the literacy movement." However, the actual experience is that liquor is spreading to more and more areas every time the liquor policy is announced.

The second Pinarayi government's second liquor policy, announced last July, made it clear that it will increase the production and distribution of Indian-made foreign liquor, beer, toddy, low-alcohol beverages from fruits, wine, and other items. It was also announced that 250 closed beverage outlets would be reopened and the distribution network strengthened. In addition, special licences were to be granted to select restaurants for the sale of beer and wine to foreign tourists and others during the tourist season and special schemes were formulated to produce extra-neutral alcohol for the manufacture of alcoholic beverages in the state and to increase the production and export of Indian-made foreign liquor. Earlier, it was decided to grant bar licences to three-star hotels and above. The result of these decisions is that alcohol is easily available everywhere. In continuation of that policy, there is now a move to allow bars with liberal provisions in IT parks where tens of thousands of people work. It is said that bars will be allowed in the form of clubs in the entertainment centres specially permitted in IT parks. The distance and time limits set for foreign liquor retail outlets and bars are not applicable to these bars; they are allowed to operate from anywhere in the park from 11 am to 11 pm. The government is the least concerned about the impact of these bars on the work and productivity in IT parks; they say that all that should be handled by the respective companies. The state government has obviously no other interest than in raising as much income as possible for the state kitty by floating as much alcohol as possible wherever possible.

The Finance Minister himself clarified in his budget speech that the excise revenue through the current policy has exceeded the budget estimates. The government has increased the bar licence fee from 30 lakhs to 35 lakhs and the FL 4 licence fee for serving liquor from 50,000 to 2 lakhs. At the same time, the licence fee for liquor shops in IT parks is fixed at 20 lakhs. In the current situation, this licence is enough to turn IT hubs into large liquor shops. In the face of the economic crisis, all these measures may be financially beneficial to the state government, but are they considering the social consequences? The Beverages Corporation sells more than six lakh litres of liquor per day through its outlets in the state. In addition to this, there are also toddy sales and other alcohol sales. This dangerous level of alcohol consumption will undoubtedly push the state into a health emergency related to alcohol abuse. Therefore, the government should withdraw from this policy.

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TAGS:Kerala GovernemntLef GovernmentKerala Liquar Policy
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