Thiruvananthpuram, March 17: The decision of the CPI(M) led LDF government in Kerala to reopen closed liquor outlets, including beer and wine parlours along the state and national highways, came in for severe criticism today from the Catholic Church, which has dubbed it as 'anti people'.
On the basis of a recent Supreme Court order, the government last night issued the order allowing reopening of liquor outlets, bars, beer and wine parlours in panchayats with a population of 10,000 from April 2. The order also allowed reopening of the liquor outlets in tourism zones.
Excise minister T P Ramakrishnan today clarified that only closed liquor outlets would be reopened and no new ones would be allowed. "New liquor outlets will not be opened in Kerala...only those closed earlier will be opened as per the Supreme Court verdict," he told reporters at Kozhikode.
However, the Catholic Church has come out against the government move, saying the LDF would receive a setback following its latest decision and it would be reflected in the coming Chengannur bypoll. Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Thamarassery, Mar Remigiose Inchananiyil, told television channels in Kozhikode that the government decision was another 'Ockhi disaster' in the making. Cyclone Ockhi had claimed the lives of several fishermen along the southern Kerala coast in November-December last year.
"The Chengannur bypoll will be a referendum of the LDF government's decision on the new liquor policy," he said. Inchananiyil said the government's move was a violation of the poll promises during the Assembly polls in 2016. "The government cheated the people by giving hollow promises of liquor abstinence," he said.
The LDF should show sincerity towards its poll manifesto of 2016, he added. Chenganassery Archbishop Joseph Perumthottam said that the church would not accept the liquor policy. While Congress leader and former KPCC President V M Sudheeran said the decision would deal a 'big blow' to the government, BJP leader P S Sreedharan Pillai, the party candidate in the Chengannur bypoll, said the government's stand was 'unfortunate'.
CPI(M) leader Anathalavattom Ananthan said the Marxist party was prepared to take on the 'challenge' of the church on the issue. Former Syro Malabar Church spokesperson Father Paul Thelekat said the liquor policy was 'anti people'.
He recalled that in the run up to the Assembly polls, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury had assured that no closed bars would be opened. "But what we will see now is that not only will closed bars be opened, but many new outlets also will be opened. The policy will only help those in the liquor business," he said.
The government's decision will see re-opening of about 500 toddy shops, 142 beer and wine only restaurants and two bars that were shut after the Supreme Court banned liquor within 500 metre radius of the state and national highways last year.
The Kerala government, on June 8 2017, unveiled its new liquor policy by deciding to open closed bar outlets in three star and above classified hotels, besides allowing serving of toddy in these hotels from July 1 that year.
It was also decided to raise the minimum age limit for consumption of liquor from the present 21 to 23. The previous Oommen Chandy government had closed 712 bars below the five-star category as part of its aim to ensure total prohibition in 10 years time.
A majority of these closed bars were later converted to beer and wine parlours. The LDF government had made it clear that it had clarified in its election manifesto itself that it was not for total prohibition, but for abstinence. Check which are the Dry Days of 2018 in India & Complete List with Dates When Alcohol is Not For Sale.