Thiruvananthapuram/Kochi: Firming up plans to drastically reduce availability of liquor, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government on Tuesday decided to issue notices to hoteliers below the five-star category to shut their bars by 12 September.

The decision, taken by a high-level meeting convened by excise minister K. Babu, would mean that 312 functioning bars would be closed only after the Onam festival, to be celebrated in the first week of next month.

Briefing the media after the meeting that worked out the action plan on the UDF’s policy decision taken last week, Babu said notices would be issued to hoteliers on 28 August, asking them to wind up liquor sales within 15 days.

As part of the procedures under the Abkari rules, unsold stockpile of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) from closed bars would be taken back by the state Beverages Corp. (Bevco), the state agency having monopoly over liquor retailing in the state. Similarly, the part of the licence fee for the remaining eight months of the current financial year would be returned to the bar owners. The total amount to be shelled out for this would be around Rs40 crore and the modalities would be discussed and finalised by the cabinet on Wednesday, the minister said.

A thorough revamp of the excise intelligence and enforcement wings of the excise department is on the cards to effectively prevent possible flow of illicit liquor and spirit to the state.

As part of efforts to increase awareness on the evils of alcohol consumption, the education department would be asked to include the topic in school textbooks. Side-by-side, a campaign to prevent alcohol consumers taking to consumption of narcotic drugs would be launched.

Apart from closing down 312 bars, the government had also decided not to renew licences of 418 bars, which has remained shut since April for want of required facilities.

The radical policy shift to sharply cut down on liquor trade was taken by the UDF leadership last week when it met to consider the fate of the 418 closed bars. The issue had for long been a source of dissension in the Congress and UDF in the state with sections of the leadership pressing for a practical approach towards the bar imbroglio.

Chief minister Oommen Chandy had laid down the new proposals, marking a critical departure from the liquor policy followed by the UDF and Left Democratic Front (LDF) over the decades.

Meanwhile, the Kerala high court on Tuesday observed that without making necessary amendments in the excise rules, the new liquor policy of the government will not get the legal sanction and gave it time till 17 September to make the required changes. PTI