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Forget Brexit, the next referendum may be on booze in Kerala

Vishakh Unnikrishnan | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST
Story so far
  • The Congress-led UDF government imposed a partial ban on liquor in Kerala
  • They had hoped to make the state liquor free in 10 years by using a phasing-out formulating
And now
  • The current LDF government favours abstinence over complete prohibition
  • Leaders have hinted at a referendum to alter the state\'s liquor policy
More in the story:
  • How will the referendum be conducted
  • Who all will the referendum hope to include

It had been quite a shocker for Kerala when the previous Congress government had imposed a prohibition policy in the state. The then government had picked a phase-out formula to bring about absolute prohibition in 10 years' time.

But with the new CPI (M) government in place, for those who love their tipple, there is hope.

The ruling party is working on a referendum on whether to continue with the previous government's formula of phasing-out alcohol from the state or re-open all the closed bars.

There are indications that the government is formulating a liquor policy to rollback the United Democratic Front's (UDF) bar phase-out strategy.

Also read: Kerala booze ban now an inter-state problem, bars mushroom along borders

The Governor P Sathasivam's address at the Kerala Assembly also mentioned a new policy in the works. He said in his address that the liquor ban in the state had led to a rise in the consumption of drugs.

While there has been no formal announcement on the matter yet, the state Congress has also given its support on conducting a referendum.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee chief VM Sudheeran on Monday said if the present dispensation is seeking to change the liquor policy laid out by the previous government, a referendum should would be ideal.

A referendum might be something the Left Democratic Front (LDF) would be interested in, as unlike the United Democratic Front (UDF), it favours abstinence over total prohibition.

For a tipple or two

Before the elections, the LDF had largely been silent on whether they would favor prohibition in the state, but now seem to be keen on heeding to the liquor lobby.

Sudheeran, while addressing the press, also mentioned that the government had an 'understanding' with bar owners before the state went to polls on how to change the UDF's liquor policy. A source within the government also stated that there was increasing pressure by many bar owners to recall the UDF's policy.

Also read: Kerala's dangerous new fad: an obsession with organ donation

The Kerala Governor in his address to the Assembly on Friday had said the opinion of all sections of society should be taken into account before formulating a new liquor policy.

While the presumption is that women would be more inclined towards prohibition, it would depend largely on how the referendum is conducted.

Formulating the referendum

Sources say that the government is interested in conducting a referendum through a website that could be accessed by mobile phones. People would be required to enter their voter id card number or Aadhar number and choose online rather than through voting booths. But this may impede on reaching out to larger sections of the state populace.

On Sunday Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself advocated a less restrictive liquor policy and emphasised on 'temperance' over total prohibition.

"Unless all sections of the populace, especially women, are part of it, any such referendum will be specious," Sudheeran informed Catch.

As of now, the Excise Minister P Ramakrishnan and Excise Commissioner Rishiraj Singh have also concurred with the chief minister's view.

The UDF government's liquor policy that came into force in 2014, had restricted Indian Made Foreign Liquor bars to five-star category hotels and the policy was subsequently been upheld by the Supreme Court. The move had shut down more than 700 other bars.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

Also read: Small mercy: Kerala sets up India's first justice board for transgenders

First published: 28 June 2016, 4:51 IST
Vishakh Unnikrishnan @sparksofvishdom

A graduate of the Asian College of Journalism, Vishakh tracks stories on public policy, environment and culture. Previously at Mint, he enjoys bringing in a touch of humour to the darkest of times and hardest of stories. One word self-description: Quipster.