CM Pinarayi Vijayan said, though he gave sanction to set up three breweries, these units will not be used for distribution, hence, there will not be any increase in the flow of liquor.

Explainer What the Kerala brewery row that has CM Pinarayi in a tight spot is all about
news Controversy Wednesday, October 03, 2018 - 16:19

After a series of allegations by Congress-led Opposition party leader Ramesh Chennithala, accusing the government of flouting norms in issuing licences to three breweries in Kannur, Palakkad and Ernakulam, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has hit back. “Based on baseless assumptions, the opposition leader is trying to turn the people of the state against the government. Allegations like these have been raised in the past but when the evidence was made public, the people have always ignored these allegations,” said Pinarayi Vijayan, at a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday.

The CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) has been facing the heat for to its decision to issue licences to various companies to set up a distillery and brewery units in three districts of the state. The controversy has thrown up many questions. Does the LDF government have a consistent liquor policy? After rooting for phased prohibition, why is the government sanctioning new liquor units?  What are the norms to be followed while sanctioning new breweries? Can the government simply give permission to private players without calling for tenders?

What is the controversy all about?

The Kerala brewery row began when Ramesh Chennithala, the leader of the opposition, alleged that there is corruption of several crores of rupees in issuing a license to set up brewery and distillery units in the state by the LDF government.

In a press conference last week, Chennithala said, “The LDF Government has secretly issued a license to three new breweries and one distillery without any policy decision or Cabinet sanction.”

The companies that have been given the license to set up breweries are Sreedharan Brewery Pvt Ltd in Kannur, Apollo Distilleries and Breweries Pvt Ltd in Palakkad and Power Infratech Pvt Ltd at Ernakulam. Sree Chakra Distillery Pvt Ltd has been given the license to set up a distillery in Thrissur. Documents revealed by a news channel showed that the Chairman of Apollo Distilleries and Breweries Pvt Ltd in Palakkad, MP Purushottaman gave the application to the CM directly and it was later forwarded to the Excise Commissioner's office. Normally, applications are given to the Commissioner.

The opposition leader went on to say that in 1999, when CPI (M)’s EK Nayanar was the Chief Minister, a sanction to set up a brewery ran into controversy, after which, an order was passed, banning the sanctioning of new liquor units in the state. He said that the order still existed in the state.

“This is a blatant violation of the existing norms and the government has not mentioned this in the excise policy or in the Governor’s policy speech. There was no mention of this even in the LDF election manifesto. As per a 1999 order, no new distillery or brewery can be allocated. No government has given sanction to any distilleries after this order. But the present government is quoting the same order of 1999, which denies allocation of new breweries or distilleries,” he is reported to have said.

Responding to this, Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday said that even though the LDF government in 1998 had considered an application of a company to set up a brewery unit, it received the license only in 2003, when the UDF government, under AK Antony, was in power.

The other allegations raised by Chennithala was that the sanctions were issued in secrecy by the LDF government and that no public announcement was made to invite bidders. Responding to this, the CM said, “To set up units like these, no newspaper advertisement or any special invitations are made. Instead, the respective governments will carefully examine the applications that they receive, and only based on careful scrutiny will it issue the license to set up the unit.”

Moving away from prohibition?

Chennithala had said that the decision to issue a license to various companies to set up distilleries and breweries is going against what the LDF had promised in their election manifesto. Responding to this statement, Pinarayi Vijayan said, “There is a need to understand what exactly the LDF had said in its election manifesto regarding their liquor policy.”

Quoting the liquor policy from the manifesto, he explained, “The LDF government will take measures to reduce the availability and consumption of liquor in a step-by-step manner. LDF will take stronger steps to reduce the consumption of alcohol than compared to the present government.”

The CM said that the state government continues to move forward with the promises that they have mentioned in the election manifesto. “At the moment, sanction has been given to three breweries to set up two bending units, compounding units and bottling units. Any person can understand that no distribution will happen from any of these units and hence, there will not be any increase in the flow of liquor,” added Pinarayi.

Speaking about the difference these breweries will bring about, Pinarayi Vijayan said, “Eight per cent of the beer consumed in Kerala comes from other states; with the setting up of the breweries, it will be replaced by the 8 percentage brewed from within the state. This way, the liquor lobby from other states will run into a loss. Besides, the opposition leader himself had said that he is willing to let that happen. Chennithala must make it clear how the State government had made a mistake in their decision,” says Pinarayi Vijayan.

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