Thiruvananthapuram, June 8 (IANS) In a major move, the Kerala government on Thursday approved a new liquor policy that will see more than 700 closed down bars in three and four -star hotels, allowed to reopen.

The timing of the bars has been changed from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., while in tourist places it will get an hour’s extension, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The minimum age to drink liquor has also been raised from 21 years to 23.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, announcing the new policy, said he has full regard for the anti-liquor campaigners but “this is not a feasible and practical solution” and hence they were forced to come out with the new policy.

He said toddy will be allowed to be served in star hotels, which was not allowed earlier.

Toddy will be allowed to be served in star hotel, which was not allowed earlier

With the move, the Chief Minister has thrown out former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s 2015 liquor policy that visualised Kerala going completely dry in 2023.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) recommended to the Pinarayi Vijayan government the new policy that will see more than 700 bars that were closed down reopen shortly, after completing all the licensing requirements.

Earlier, addressing reporters here after the LDF meeting, its convenor Vaikom Viswan said they have recommended to the state government that bar licences can be given to three and four -star hotels, besides the three and four -star hotels should be allowed to serve toddy too in tourist areas.

“We have found that there has been no reduction in liquor consumption after the previous government’s liquor policy was in force. Instead there was increase in illicit liquor and use of drugs. We also pointed out that a report of the Udayabanu Commission that studied about liquor in Kerala never recommended for prohibition. And mind you, Udayabanu was a staunch Gandhian too,” said Viswan.

No sooner did news surface of the recommendation, angry Church leaders and anti-liquor activists who were staging a protest in front of the Kerala Assembly, on Thursday demanded the Vijayan government stick to the policy.

Archbishop of the Latin Diocese, here, M. Susaipakiam expressed deep sadness at the way the Left government had “cheated” them.

“The Left government is overtly and covertly helping the liquor lobby. We will not sit idle and we will continue our tirade against this evil,” said Susaipakiam.

Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios, senior bishop of the Syro Malankara Church, also chairman of the Anti-Liquor Public Front, said: “Through this new policy, liquor is going to flow freely and figures reveal that when the bars were closed liquor sales fell by around 30 per cent. Now unrest will start and the Left should not forget that the people voted them to power not for this.”

Bishop Mar Remegiose Inchananiyil, of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, termed it an “irresponsible decision” by the Left government.

State Congress president M.M. Hassan said the new policy is “a gift” of the Left to the liquor lobby for their service during the assembly elections.

“It has now become clear that the Left was behind the liquor lobby which was against our government after we brought out a liquor policy that. We will bring the people out to protest this move,” said Hassan.

This is published unedited from the IANS feed.