Kerala liquor policy: State govt claims no discussions held; opposition alleges graft

Thiruvananthapuram, May 24 (PTI) Reports about the Kerala government mulling withdrawal of the ‘dry day’ norm with regard to alcohol sales kicked off a political storm in the state on Friday, with the Congress-led UDF accusing the LDF administration of taking bribes to favour bar owners, while the Left claimed it has not yet held any deliberations with regard to its liquor policy.

The issue of withdrawing the ‘dry day’ norm — not selling alcohol in the state on the first day of every calendar month — snowballed into a controversy after an audio clip, purportedly of a bar association member allegedly asking other members to pay money for a favourable liquor policy, was aired on TV channels.

Following the airing of the audio clip, the Congress-led UDF opposition came out with allegations that the Left government sought Rs 20 crore from bar owners to make a policy favourable for them and demanded the resignation of state Excise Minister M B Rajesh.

Brushing aside the allegations and the demand of the opposition, Rajesh said that the state government has not yet held any deliberations with regard to its liquor policy.

A similar stand was taken by the CPI(M) with its state secretary M V Govindan claiming that no discussions were held regarding the liquor policy by the party or the Left front or the state government.

“A few officials do not decide what the liquor policy of the state should be. That decision is taken first at the party level, then by the LDF and then the government,” Govindan told reporters at a press conference held here.

Earlier in the day, Rajesh said no discussions on the liquor policy were even started at the government or Excise department level due to the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

Referring to the voice clip, the minister said strict action would be taken against such attempts to collect money to influence the government policy.

“We will not encourage such acts,” he added.

With regard to reports of bars coming up in IT parks in the state, Rajesh said this proposal was part of the earlier liquor policy and the same has been approved by the legislative Assembly’s subject committee.

Prior to that, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, V D Satheesan, alleged in the morning that the Left government in the state was trying to collect Rs 20 crore from the over 800 bars in the state by promising them a favourable liquor policy.

He alleged that the purported voice clip is proof of the “blatant corruption” by the government and demanded the resignation of Rajesh.

Satheesan said bar owners would not collect money without any demand being made from the government or its officials.

He further alleged that while the number of bars in the state were increased by the LDF when it came to power and the sale of liquor increased, the collection of turnover tax from the bars has gone down.

“This is because of the lack of any inspection of bars by the GST department. I had said in the state Assembly that the government was not properly collecting the turnover tax,” he alleged.

Satheesan said the UDF was always opposed to the withdrawal of the ‘dry day’ norm.

Countering the allegations by Satheesan, Govindan claimed that it was the UDF which has the habit of taking money to make favourable policies and not the LDF.

He termed as “false propaganda” the UDF allegations that the LDF was collecting money from the bar owners and said that such lies were being spread by Satheesan and KPCC chief K Sudhakaran.

Govindan also contended that consumption of liquor was down in the state presently as compared to that during the UDF administration and therefore, the government’s revenue from alcohol sales has actually gone down and not increased as claimed by the opposition.

The Federation of Kerala Hotels Association also denied that any money was collected from its members to influence the liquor policy.

The association’s president V Sunil Kumar told reporters that the person whose purported voice clip was aired on TV channels was already suspended from the association.

“So, I do not know what he has said. He has been suspended. After his suspension, if he says anything, we are not responsible for that,” Kumar said.

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