Cong demands Kerala Excise Minister’s resignation over Rs 20 crore bribery allegation

Thiruvananthapuram, May 24 (IANS) Hours after an audio asking all bar owners in the state to give Rs 2.50 lakh each (amounting to a total of over Rs 20 crore) for “favourable” liquor policies surfaced on Friday, top Congress leaders demanded that Kerala Excise Minister M. B. Rajesh should step down.

In the audio, Animon, the president of the Idukki- Federation of Kerala Hotel Association, who is also the vice president of the apex body of bar hotel owners, asked all bar owners in his district for “funds in exchange of favorable liquor policy for 2024-25”.

Speaking to the media, Leader of Opposition V. D. Satheesan said this is one of the biggest scams that has surfaced in the excise sector.

“A few years back, a similar audio clip stated that the then Excise Minister K. M. Mani had collected Rs one crore from bar owners wanting to open a bar (depending on star status). Soon after, a massive protest led by then CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan was held. Eventually, Mani had to step down (based on a court observation). That was Rs one crore, but this is more than Rs 20 crore. The Excise Minister has to quit and face a probe,” said Satheesan.

During that time, the Left leaders had alleged that Mani had a note-counting machine at his house and the bribe received from bar owners used to be counted by him.

“Now, the only thing that we need to know now is where is the counting machine kept, is it in the house of the Excise Minister or Vijayan or is it at the CPI(M) state party headquarters? The Excise Minister has to quit and a probe should be announced,” said Satheesan.

State Congress president K. Sudhakaran alleged that the call for collecting Rs 2.50 lakh from each bar owner by the ruling CPI(M) started before the Lok Sabha polls.

“The present audio is a reminder to all bar owners, who have not paid, to give money as the new liquor policy is all set to be announced shortly. For this payment, the state government is likely to relax rules for the operation and the rules of functioning of bars in the state. The excise minister has no other way but to resign,” said Sudhakaran.

Generally, the annual liquor policy comes into effect from April 1 but this time as the model code of conduct for the Lok Sabha polls is in force, it was deferred.

A few of the relaxations being expected in the new liquor policy are lifting of dry days (i.e. on the 1st of every calendar month, no retail liquor store, nor bars sell liquor) besides extending the timings for liquor sale at stores and bars.

Meanwhile, Excise Minister Rajesh told the media that the state government has taken note of the contents of the audio.

“I saw the news and heard the audio message. It is a very serious issue. I wish to state that the state government has yet to even sit down to formulate the new excise policy. For the past month, there have been several news reports discussing the details of the upcoming changes to the liquor policy. We will not sit idle and action will be taken. What it is going to be, will come out later,” said Rajesh.

In the audio, Animon had claimed that he was sending the audio message on the advice of the state president of the association V. Sunil Kumar.

However, Kumar denied Animon’s claims.

“When the Left government assumed office in 2016, there were only a few bars. At present, there are around 827 bar hotels, but no money has exchanged hands. In our association, there are 650 members and we are trying to buy a new building in the state capital city for which Rs 6.20 crore is required. We are now short of around a few crores and that’s why we have started a collection drive, Sunil Kumar said.

“Animon and few others are opposed to this building project, and we know he is trying to float a organisation. Since this is against the rules of our association, Animon has been suspended and people like him can make any statements,” he said.

Incidentally, a similar audio that came out during the tenure of the then Oommen Chandy government ( 2011-16) and the after-effects of it, eventually led to the resignation of the then Excise Minister K. M. Mani in 2015.

Mani had to step down following a massive protest led by then CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, and strangely after the passing away of Mani, the party led by his son Jose K. Mani is now an ally of the Left government.



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