Ernakulam: Kerala excise minister T.P. Ramakrishnan said on Monday that he has no plans to allow new bars to open, two days after the pro-prohibition Catholic church threatened the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) with widespread protests if it made any move to increase alcohol sales.
The CPI(M) secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan also held a televised press meet on Monday in Thiruvananthapuram to clarify that the party is yet to formulate a new liquor policy and, as of now, has no plans to allow fresh bars in the state.
The move signals a policy reversal for the CPI(M), which has been chipping away at the previous Congress-led government’s phased liquor ban since 2017, providing licences to three-star and five-star hotels to serve alcohol and allowing bars to reopen.
Over the last two days, several Catholic priests have come out against the government, after an announcement allowing bars in panchayats within 500 metres of the national or state highways, where Supreme Court has banned liquor sales.
Panchayats with more than 10,000 residents will be considered as municipalities, the government said, so that they can avail an exemption of the Supreme Court ban for panchayats having an urban nature.
The move will see the reopening of 171 beer and wine parlors, six retail outlets and 499 toddy shops, the government said. It did not mention opening of fresh bars, but in effect the move could have led to it. However, on Friday night, a media statement after a cabinet meeting said the move will not lead to opening of fresh bars.
On Saturday, Mar Remigiose Inchananiyil, a Bishop, called the decision a second Ockhi-- the deadly cyclone that hit Kerala coast on 30 November—and threatened to defeat the communist party candidate Saji Cheriyan in upcoming Chengannur by-election. On Sunday, Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) president Archbishop Soosa Pakiam also hit out against the government, saying the move to allow bars in panchayats is a challenge to the people. It shows the government has totally succumbed to the liquor lobby, he alleged.
Some CPM leaders first challenged the Church, asking whether priests have the authority to stop its own followers from drinking. However, it later toned down its response, clarifying the government is only making way for the court exemption for a shut down bars and is not planning to open any fresh ones.