The Pinarayi Vijayan government in Kerala has served a heady piece of news for tipplers and those in the hospitality industry in the pre-Onam celebration mood. The state government has, through an order, reduced the distance between liquor bars and institutions like schools, colleges and places of worship. Currently, one cannot have a liquor bar in a four-star or five-star hotel if it is within 200 metres of a place of worship or educational institution, according to a norm set by the previous Congress-led UDF government. This distance has been reduced to 50 metres. A government order to this effect was made this week.
This would give more flexibility to the operations of four-star, five-star and heritage hotels, said MR Narayanan, a leading player in the hotel industry.
“The amendment was made following the recommendations by state excise commissioner Rishi Raj Singh, who studied the issue in detail,” Kerala excise minister TP Ramakrishnan told FE. The state committee of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) coalition had discussed the pros and cons of making a change before giving the political nod. While tourism brings revenue to the tune of Rs 30,000 crore to the state economy and liquor fetches Rs 12,000 crore for its coffers, rise in alcoholism has been a cause of worry for social activists.
The per capita liquor consumption in Kerala is one of the worst in the country. A study in 2008 had pointed out that the age at which one starts drinking is as low as 14 years in the state. The Catholic Bishops Association of Kerala has been disturbed over the surge of alcoholism and domestic violence in its dioceses, often pressurising the successive governments in power to keep tabs on the free flow of liquor. Singh says that he was flooded by representations on the distance issue from the hotel industry. “They had quoted innumerable instances of difficulties experience by hotels, especially those in tourist destinations.
The state government had favourably considered the case made by the main players in tourism industry.” The Congress, in its turn, has flayed the LDF’s order to trim the distance between the bar and the educational institutions. State Congress president MM Hassan has been quick to point out that there is a corrupt nexus between liquor barons in the state and the Left government, which worked in facilitating the government order on the distance between bars and educational institutions.