Kozhikode (Kerala) : Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said on Friday his government has paid “a heavy price” for closing down hundreds of liquor bars, but the “firm” policy would actually help them in the elections next month.
“We had to pay a heavy price. It’s those, who have been affected by our decision to close down bars, who are against us and hence these allegations against our government,” Chandy told reporters, referring to the “bar bribery scam” that badly bruised his government with allegations of graft.
The scam saw finance minister K.M. Mani resigning last year, and also led to the stepping down of excise minister K. Babu. His resignation was, however, not accepted, following relief from the Kerala High Court.
Chandy suggested he was so confident about the “clarity” of the policy of his UDF government that he would use it to canvass for votes for the assembly polls next month.
“Our liquor policy will be taken up as a campaign material as we are very clear with what we want to achieve. In 10 years’ time, prohibition will be in place in Kerala,” he said.
In contrast to the clear policy of the UDF government, the liquor policy of the Left Democratic Front (LDF), led by Commuist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), was “hazy and not clear,” he said.
“While we are seeking prohibition, they are speaking about the policy of abstaining from liquor. We are confident that our firm policy will help us in the polls,” said Chandy.
The Chandy government announced last year that licences of all the 730 liquor bars (two, three and four-star bars) in the state was not being renewed as a first step towards total prohibition.
The decision left more than 500 liquor bar owners in dire straits, but won the approval of certain religious leaders.
Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference welcomed the closing down of liquor bars and Archbishop of the Thiruvananthapuram Latin diocese M. Soosaipakiam has warned that any new government had better refrain from changing the policy.
There are still 29 five-star hotel bars and 813 beer and wine parlours in Kerala.
CPI-M’s state party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said if the LDF won the elections, it will not open bars, but will follow its declared policy of having an abstinence campaign with the help of NGOs.