Fed up with the dubious crown of the state—that it is the country’s highest per-capita liquor consuming state—the Kerala government is readying to go the Gujarat way. Unlike the four Indian states—Gujarat, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur—which currently ply complete prohibition, Kerala’s newly-unfolded prohibition-focused liquor policy would force its cash-strapped state exchequer to abstain from about Rs 10,000 crore Indian-made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) revenues, not to speak of the indirect impact on the Rs 23,000-crore tourism inflows.
“The state government-run liquor outlets will be phased out over 10 years,” chief minister Oommen Chandy had said on Thursday evening, after a politically-turbulent meeting of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government, which is the ruling coalition in Kerala.
By official statistics, the liquor consumption in Kerala per person was 1.76 gallons in 2013. “This is more likely to be an underestimation, especially if one factors in the rare liquor brands that the state’s enormous NRI diaspora brings home to the consumption pool,” the Archbishop of Latin Catholic Church of Thiruvananthapuram, Maria Callist Soosa Pakiam, told FE.
Since the coastal belt of Kerala, which was more vulnerable to alcoholism and its battering impact on families, coincided a great deal with the Church’s parishes, the Bishops are at the forefront in trying to get the state out of the liquor abuse. “Concerted efforts are needed to avoid illicit liquor tragedies, while closing down the IMFL outlets,” he said.
The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is also elated by the prohibition course announced. Within hours of the announcement of the prohibition-oriented liquor policy, the president of the Indian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, met chief minister Chandy to congratulate him for “the bold move to make the state alcohol-free”. Further, he also handed over to Chandy a token cheque of $1,600 for a fund proposed to rehabilitate the employees of the liquor shops slated to be axed.
The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML)—a coalition partner in the UDF—had also been pressing for the closure of bars.
The following is the chief minister’s plan. “In the short run, liquor will be allowed to be sold only in 5-star hotel bars. Sundays will be dry days. About 730 bars will be shut down. About 10% of the 338 liquor shops owned by a state-run monopoly will be shut every year.” Chandy further added that the UDF government was willing to brave the economic losses for the larger social gains.
CPI (M), which heads the opposition