Church cries foul as Kerala plans more liquor outlets

The government plans to take away local bodies’ right to permit liquor outlets

By Matters India Reporter

Kochi: The Syro-Malabar Church, a prominent Christian group in Kerala, has criticized the southern Indian state’s decision to open more liquor outlets

The synod, the Church’s apex administrative body now under session, said that taking away the local self-government bodies’ role in permitting liquor outlets within their jurisdiction had already helped increase liquor availability in the state.

On the one hand the government had promised that it would encourage temperance, and on the other, it was making liquor available freely in the state, bemoaned a statement issued on August 24.

The synod led by the Church’s head Cardinal George Alencherry will end on September 1. The meeting began on August 21 at St Thomas Mount, the Church’s headquarters in Kakkanad, a suburb of Kochi, the state’s commercial capital.

The Church has led campaigns for temperance for decades.

Kerala’s previous United Democratic Front government had limited liquor bars to five star hotel.

The current Left Democratic Front government in early June revised the liquor policy and decided to reopen about 700 closed bars allowing licenses to three-star hotels and above.

These bars were closed two years ago in a move to make Kerala a “dry” state with total prohibition on alcoholic drinks by 2023.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan noted that prohibition had been ineffective around the world and cited records to show people went to any extent to get high, even narcotics. His government would rather give priority to abstinence than a blanket ban, he added.

“The previous government’s liquor policy was a flop, statistics show. There was no let-up in consumption. Besides, we have to consider the plight of 40,000 employees working in the sector,” Vijayan said.

Church organizations criticized the government’s move, saying it is chasing money at the expense of people’s health. Liquor revenue accounts for around 25 percent of the 400 billion rupees the state earns from various taxes and services.

Church leaders and anti-liquor activists had also protested in front of the Kerala assembly and asked the government to stick to the previous policy.

Archbishop Maria Calist Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum Latin archdiocese, who heads the Catholic Church in the state, called the government’s step “cheating.”

Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios of the Syro Malankara Church warned that liquor would flow freely in the state. The government should not forget that the people voted them to power not for this, he added.

The tourism industry, however, was overjoyed.

The new policy allows liquor outlets in the three domestic airports of the state. The minimum age to drink liquor is raised from 21 years to 23.

Bars can remain open betwqeen 11 am and 11pm. In tourist destinations, they will get an extra hour — 10 am to 11pm.

The government also decided to constitute a toddy board for the welfare of workers in this traditional sector.

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