Bars Could Re-Open, Says Kerala Minister Stressing Tourism Has Crashed

Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac has given strong hints of change, admitting that tourism has been badly hit in one of India's most popular holiday destinations.

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More than 700 bars shut down as part of the government's plan for a liquor-free Kerala by 2023.


Thiruvananthapuram:  Hundreds of bars shut down over the past two years in Kerala may reopen, with the state's Left-led government indicating a major departure from the previous government's 10-year liquor phase-out plan, spurred by falling tourism and revenues.

The state's new excise policy is expected on June 30. Ahead of that, Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac has given strong hints of change, admitting that tourism has been badly hit in one of India's most popular holiday destinations.

To a question on the possibility of reopening some 700 bars, Mr Isaac told NDTV, "that is for the excise policy, which will come out very soon, to reveal. But one thing is certain - Kerala's tourism has taken a big beating. Something has to be done."

Reopening the bars is the "logical thing to do", he said, adding, "The tourism minister has been saying this, and all resort owners have been saying this. And something has to be done about this."

Following a decision by the previous Congress government in the state, bars were either shut down or turned into beer and wine parlours, and only five-star hotels and government-run outlets were allowed to sell hard liquor. More than 700 bars shut down as part of the government's plan for a liquor-free Kerala by 2023.

With the Supreme Court order banning the sale of liquor along highways, several government owned outlets had to shut down. The combined loss to Kerala's tourism, according to Tourism Director P Bala Kiran, is around Rs 4,000-5,000 crore annually.

The tourism department says conferences, conventions and meetings are increasingly being organised in other destinations like Goa and Sri Lanka.

The Left government believes the policy was half-baked and resulted in bootlegging, illegal liquor and increased use of drugs. But Johnson Edayaranmula of Alcohol and Drug Information Centre disputes it, saying: "If you see statistics of last three years, liquor  consumption and the use of spurious liquor has only decreased substantially."

After coming to power last year, the Left did not shut down 10 per cent of government-run liquor outlets annually, which is part of the phase-out roadmap.


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