Government retracts decision to open 250 new liquor outlets

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Thiruvananthapuram: The government has backtracked on its controversial decisions to open 250 retail outlets and renew the bar licences of hotels before the reassessment of their classification. Indications are that the government went back on its decision after allegations were raised that these steps would lead to an increase in the availability of liquor.

The decisions were initially included in the new liquor policy but the new order issued by the Revenue Department giving effect to the policy does not contain these two suggestions.

However, there is no change in the decision to allow tapping of toddy by bars and resorts. It helped the government that the CPI, the main constituent partner of the ruling Left Democratic Front, had not supported the opposition posed against the decision by its labour wing, the All India Trade Union Council (AITUC). Similarly, there is no change in the decision to grant seasonal beer-wine licences to restaurants located in tourism zones.

Although there is a provision in the policy for opening 559 Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) retail outlets in the State, only 309 are functioning at present. The Cabinet had granted permission to open the rest of the outlets as part of the new liquor policy, stated Excise Minister M B Rajesh. 

The decision of the government which had come to power with a promise to reduce the availability of liquor, to open 250 more liquor outlets had drawn severe criticism. Despite this, there are provisions to open new liquor outlets as needed under the order issued last year. Ten shops have been already opened under this order and 15 more are on the way. 

There were also allegations that the decision to grant licences to hotels till their reassessment was taken with a view to help bar operators. The government policy is to grant bar licences to hotels classified as three-star and above. Therefore, the question posed was how bar licence could be renewed even before the reassessment of hotels. 

Grace marks for temperance clubs
In order to counter the allegations that the liquor policy does not contain any de-addiction programmes, some new suggestions, including granting of grace marks in SSLC and Plus Two examinations for members of temperance clubs have been introduced. Funds will be allocated from the Social Responsibility Fund (CSR) of the Beverages Corporation for de-addiction programmes. The activities of the Vimukthi Mission will be extended to primary schools too. The policy also declared that sports carnivals would be organised to send out a message against the use of liquor and that fitness centres would be set up in coastal and Adivasi areas.

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