Fate of 418 closed bars in Kerala uncertain

Thiruvananthapuram : The decision on re-opening 418 bars in Kerala that have been closed since April 1 this years hangs in balance as the ruling party is divided over the issue.

In Kerala, there are a total of 752 bars, out of which 418 are yet to re-open. Liquor is also sold at 383 state-owned retail outlets.

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The renewal of the annual bar licences is a routine affair in the state as ahead of every fiscal year, there is an automatic renewal from the state excise department on payment of the stipulated fee (Rs.2.3 million).

But things went for a toss after V.M. Sudheeran took over the reins of the Congress party in Kerala in February.

Sudheeran is seen as one of the leading anti-liquor campaigners in the state. He said the Congress party’s policy of introducing prohibition in a phased manner should be taken up and said the first step is to ensure that the availability of liquor is brought down.

He cited a 2011 CAG report that said the 418 bars do not maintain proper standards and that there licences should not be renewed.

“Let discussions at all levels take place on what needs to be done and then a decision can be arrived at,” Sudheeran said.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has been playing his cards close to his chest as he knows any wrong move could lead to a severe backlash.

Chandy has decided to take the issue for discussions in the Congress party and also to the United Democratic Front, which is the foremost decision-making body of the Congress-led government here.

But even after several rounds of discussion, there has been no solution. However, grumblings have begun both in his party and in the UDF against Sudheeran.

The recently appointed vice president of the party, V.D. Satheesan, known to be one of the closest aide of Sudheeran, spoke against him which surprised many.

Sudheeran hit back by saying that one cannot bat for the liquor lobby and also be conscious of one’s image at the same time.

There is now absence of consensus in the Congress party over the issue and Chandy brushes aside the issue. The party high command might have to intervene to resolve the difference of opinion on the bar licences, it is felt.