India's biggest consumer of alcohol, Kerala, will be liquor-free in 10 years, after the ruling United Democratic Front coalition called for a total prohibition in the state, phased over 10 percent reduction each year.
The decision mainly by the Congress-led government was finalised on Thursday by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, and will come into effect from 1 April 2015. Only the 23 five-star hotels in the state will be granted bar licences, while those of the existing 318 bars in the state will not be renewed from next year.
"The aim is to achieve the target of a liquor-free Kerala in 10 years. We are fulfilling one more promise in the UDF manifesto," Chandy said after a two-hour meeting, reported The Times of India.
Kerala had achieved the reputation as the highest consumer of alcohol with a per capita consumption of 8.3 litre, much higher than than the national average of 5.7 litre.
The UDF government has also decided to phase out the Beverages Corporation (Bevco), which sells liquor in retail stores. The 334 Bevco outlets will be wound up with the closing of 10 percent every year, and they will not be allowed to sell liquor on Sundays and on the 1st of every month.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president VM Sudheeran, who pushed for the prohibition, seems to have been influenced by the Indian Union Muslim League, a major party in the coalition, and the government may have been under pressure by the Catholic Church.
As per reports, Cardinal Baselios Mor Cleemis, the Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, has warned the government that it would lose support if the licences of closed bars were renewed.
Thus, the government's first step in its prohibition drive is to not allow the licences of 418 bars, shut since April this year for lack of upgradation, to be renewed.
The Kerala government's recommendation on complete liquor prohibition will be ratified by the state cabinet and will then be conveyed to the Kerala High Court as a policy decision. Interestingly, the Congress-led government's vision of an alcohol-free state is on the lines of the dry state of Gujarat, which was headed by BJP's Narendra Modi until he took over as Prime Minister.
Residents, of course, are left high and dry at the government's decision.
"When they stop this we will have no choice but to spend more on alcohol. Ultimately the money we earn will not reach our homes," a resident, Anil Kumar, told IBNLIve.
"As a result of this decision, illicit liquor will increase in the state and there may also be a hooch tragedy because of this. If they won't get it in Kerala, they will travel to the neighbouring Tamil Nadu and get liquor. We will end up spending on travelling also," another resident told IBNLive.
However, not all Keralites are disappointed.
"I support this decision provided that they completely ban liquor, they say its injurious to health then why do they sell it," another resident, Sashindran, was quoted as saying.