The Kerala government has watered down its earlier claim that beer, wine and toddy cannot be considered alcoholic beverages, and the state government will withdraw its interlocutory application before the Supreme Court which made this controversial claim.
When reports of this application came out early this week, it proved to be an image issue for the CPI(M)-led LDF government in Kerala. The application was filed to simplify the apex court’s verdict to remove all liquor outlets within 500 m of national and state highways. The application also pleaded for certain modifications, including the exemption of beer, wine and toddy from the purview of the judgment. The state had sought a one-year timeframe to implement the directive as against the March 31 deadline set by the SC verdict to remove liquor outlets from highways.
“The judgment is not easy to implement,” state excise minister TP Ramakrishnan told FE. “One, it will cause a huge fall in tourism revenues for the state which relies heavily on tourism. Two, there are logistic difficulties in spotting new locations. There is sharp public resistance from moving to residential areas from highways. Three, there is the complex issue of rehabilitation of employees who lose their jobs. As on now, we have decided not to proceed further on this path,” he added.
When the content of the application sprang up as news headlines this week, legal experts pointed out that the claim that sale of beer, wine and toddy cannot be considered as liquor sale was in contradiction to the state’s own Abkari Act, which defines all three as liquor. Further, the petition also sought exemption for the government-owned retailer Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation.
The anti-liquor lobby in the state had also interpreted the filing of the application as a threat to the prohibition measures existing in the state, as in effect the government was seeking a modification that would benefit five-star hotels along national highways that serve beer and wine.
Alcohol by volume (ABV) in beer ranges from less than 3% to around 14%, according to industry sources. This strength can be pepped up to 20% ABV by tossing up with champagne yeast and to 55% ABV through freeze-distilling process. Toddy contains about 4% alcohol. Most wines have 12-14% ABV. Brandy may contain 20% or more ABV.
Since its own judicial efforts have proved counterproductive, the Kerala government has decided to withdraw the application. Instead, it has pinned its faith on the applications seeking review of the SC verdict on liquor sales made by other states like Maharashtra, which are going through similar distress.