Saturday, August 24 – Print and digital publications are abuzz with news about prohibition in Kerala. A few days ago, the Congress-led United Democratic Front government finalised the excise policy proposing to make Kerala alcohol-free in 10 years, according to a Times of India news report. “The UDF has come out with a unanimous decision for a liquor ban in the state to achieve total prohibition,” chief minister Oommen Chandy was quoted as saying after the meeting. Once the UDF recommendation has been ratified by the state cabinet it will become policy.
For a start, the licenses of 418 bars, which were closed in April because they failed to upgrade to two-star facilities, won’t be renewed. The licenses of 312 other bars in the state won’t be renewed after March 31, 2015, while the government simultaneously seeks to terminate the licenses of these 312 bars immediately.
There is no word on the status of 111 beer and wine parlours in the excise policy draft, but sources in the UDF said it’s likely they will be allowed to function. From April 1, 2015, bar licenses will be allowed only in five-star hotels. There are 23 of them in the state.
The TOI news report also stated that the UDF had decided to phase out government Bevco outlets selling liquor in retail by winding up 10% outlets every year. In addition to the first day of every month being a dry day, in future liquor will not be sold on Sundays.
Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of liquor in the country at 8.3 litres, states the news release. Punjab comes second with 7.9 litres, while the national per capita consumption of liquor is 4 litres.
Apart from the doubtful efficacy of total prohibition, the state would incur a loss of Rs 8,000 crore which is estimated at more than one-third of the state government’s annual plan outlay. The effect of the decision on IT and Tourism industries – on which the state’s economy relies – is unknown.
Propelled by political compulsions, the chief minister, however, appears unconcerned and aims to achieve the target of a liquor-free Kerala in 10 years. “We are fulfilling one more promise in the UDF manifesto,” Chandy said.
V M Sudheeran, Chandy’s political rival who is in the forefront of the campaign for prohibition, has been gaining immense popular support, according to the TOI report, and has emerged as an alternative power centre. The Catholic Church and Muslim organisations are also supporting prohibition. Indeed, Cardinal Baselios Mor Cleemis warned the government it could be thrown out if it renewed the licenses of closed bars.
Opinion is divided on the efficacy of the policy and its motivation, suspect. In the view of some commentators, it could well boomerang, if Sudheeran were to endorse a rational liquor policy that does away with state monopoly over the sale of liquor. The reason bars are so popular is that, unlike at a state-owned liquor vend, you do not have to stand in queue for your tipple.
Read the TOI report here and ET comment, More to it than meets the eye, here.
We believe prohibition would be a backward step. If there are concerns about liquor related anti-social behaviour, they have to be redressed separately and individually.
Banning liquor results in problems of its own such as the spread of illicit, and often spurious, alcohol, petty crime and corruption. Prohibition has rarely been successful in other countries, when compared to a rational liquor policy that encourages moderation and is not restrictive.
Wine consumption, moreover, should be considered separately and not be lumped indiscriminately with whisky, white spirits and stronger forms of alcohol like country liquor.