Kerala drinking age: In a big move that may have huge consequences, the LDF government in Kerala has decided to increase the legal age of drinking from 21 to 23. The state government led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will bring an ordinance and make necessary amendments in the Abkari Act. It has been learnt that during Assembly polls campaign, Left Democratic Front (LDF) had promised about raising the age limit for consumption of liquor. The cabinet decision will be sent to Law Department. Kerala presently has around 815 beer and wine parlours and 922 toddy shops. This come after the Kerala government had unveiled its new liquor policy earlier this year. It had then decided to open closed bar outlets in three star and above classified hotels besides allowing serving of toddy in these hotels from July 1. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had backed the policy and it was redrafted considering the fall in state revenue and increase in the consumption of intoxicant substances. This, he said, was the fallout of the previous Congress-led UDF government’s liquor policy. The UDF policy had resulted in the closure of 712 bars below the five-star category as part of its aim to ensure total prohibition in 10 years time. A majority of these closed bars were later converted to beer and wine parlours, according to reports.
On the criticism that the new policy will result in reopening of several closed bars, Vijayan had then said the LDF had clarified in its election manifesto itself that it was not for total prohibition, but for abstinence. Pointing out that the UDFs liquor policy was a “total failure,” Vijayan said the states experience shows that it was “impractical” also. There was a steep rise in the consumption of drugs after the closure of bars, he said.
With regard to the Supreme Court order banning sale of liquor within 500 metres of state and national highways, he said the state will abide by it. “Presently in Kerala only five-star hotels have bar facilities. A change is being made by the government now. We have decided to issue bar licenses to three star and above classified hotels. Some restaurants will be allowed to serve liquor at their banquet hall after levying fees,” he said.
In a path breaking decision, the LDF government also decided to allow three star category and above hotels in tourism sector to serve toddy. A toddy board will also be constituted to help workers in this sector, the chief minister said. The cabinet also decided to bring in timely changes in the present Abkari rules.
About the Catholic churchs charge that the LDF government had cheated the state by deciding to reopen closed bars, he said “with all due respect to them we are unable to implement what they say. During elections we had made it clear that the LDFs policy will not be the same as that of the UDF.” On the demand of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) for increase in their production of wine quota for religious mass, the chief minister said the government will give it due consideration.
On June 2, the government had liberalised its liquor policy by taking away the powers of local bodies to regulate setting up of liquor outlets. Protests had erupted over the government decision with a delegation of religious leaders, including the KCBC and anti- liquor activists, meeting the governor and expressing their opposition.