Intro: Liquor ban has hit the Hotel and Tourism Industry significantly. Several national seminars have been shifted to other states. Investor are likely to lose heavily and liquor trafficking is expected to increase.
Liquor ban is a burning issue in Kerala these days. Tax from liquor sales constitutes 22 per cent of the State revenue, that is, around Rs 400 crore. Bars, 5 Star hotels and hundreds of State-run Beverages Corporation (BC) outlets satisfy the drunkards’ appetite. Booze is money for the State exchequer, but, its social implications are not good. Drinking habits have pushed families into oceans of tears and have ruined a large number of families.
Years before, Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) had resolved to permit bar licences only to 5 Star hotels. Bar licences gets renewed on March 31 every year. This time they were not renewed due to objection raised by 4 Star bar owners. With the declaration of the Parliament election model code of conduct came into force which did not permit the renewal of bar licences. By that time VM Sudheeran took over as Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief. Once the elections were over, Sudheeran opposed the renewal of licences. Chief Minister of the State, Oommen Chandy and Excise Minister, K Babu tried their level best to tame and soften their party chief, but in vain. Bar owners’ legal steps turned futile too.
Government decided not to renew the expired 418 bar licences, closed the existing 318 bars on September 12 (after Onam) and would close 10 per cent of the total liquor outlets every year so that all of them would be closed by 10 years; only 5 Star hotels would be allowed to run bars. K Babu states that beverages outlets’ sales have exceeded the sales of 418 closed bars. In another words, government revenue will not suffer for the next 10 years even if all the beverages outlets reach a grinding halt.
The UDF decision was celebrated by all, of course except for booze lovers. But, once the euphoria was over, dissidence raised its heads here and there. Kerala Tourism Minister himself came out to say that the new system would hit tourism. Leaders of some UDF constituents also expressed their skepticism.
Vellappalli Nateshan, General Secretary of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP), the community organisation of OBC Ezhavas has attacked the government for retaining bar licences of the churches. Actually the use of wine in the churches is part of religious activities.
The sudden closure of 418 bars was a bolt from the blue for nearly 21,000 people who lost jobs and couple of people committed suicides due to the resultant poverty. And, the abolition of more bars will multiply the consequences.
Dr MP Sukumaran Nair FIE, renowned economist and former Special Secretary to the CM of Kerala, told to Organiser that, “Even though liquor ban is an ideal step, the implementation is not easy. If the government does not execute it effectively bootleggers will rule the roost.” Dr Nair does not believe that prohibition will affect the tourism because Kerala always host serious tourists. On the other hand, the largest consumers belong to working class hence social issues, poverty, suicides, divorce, etc. will increase.
A senior Excise Officer, who prefers to keep anonymity said, “Since Beverages Corporation outlets and 5 Star hotels do exist, no worries about bootlegging. Clubs and beer parlours are also there.” But, the anxiety is about public drinking and bringing liquor home. Home drinking can cultivate pro-alcohol attitude among children and even ladies. He envisages a fall in tourism.
Sri Sivakumar, a hotel and tourism consultant stated that, “Liquor ban has already hit the industry. Several national seminars have been shifted to other states. Non Resident Keralites who have invested in hotel industry will lose heavily. And, drugs trafficking are likely to increase.”
General public airs mixed reaction. While nephalists hails the UDF move, alcohol-lovers are the other way around. Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) is agitating for the closure of BC outlets. -T Satisan from Kochi