The Congress leadership in the State has failed to arrive at a consensus on issuing bar licences, with Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president V. M. Sudheeran and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy sticking to their respective positions.

Excise Minister K. Babu’s attempts to keep the channel of dialogue open between the two leaders made no head way on Tuesday, as a result of which the issue could not be taken up at a UDF high-power committee meeting. It has now been decided that Mr. Sudheeran, Mr. Chandy, and Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala would hold a meeting on Wednesday to work a way out of the tangle, which appears to be quite a complicated one.

Mr. Sudheeran continued to maintain that the number of liquor bars should be brought down in accordance with the Congress party’s proclaimed line of pushing for abstinence. Sources said Mr. Sudheeran wanted the government to consider issuing bar licences only to establishments that had two-star certification and classification, something which the majority of the closed ones do not have. He apparently rejected Mr. Chennithala’s proposal of issuing licences to the closed bars that were of two-star standards and the appointment of an official committee to evaluate the status of others.

Legal bind

Government sources aver that the government would find itself in a legal bind if it refused to renew the licences of the 418 bars that have been now closed. This was because the previous Left Democratic Front government had amended Foreign Liquor (FL) rule 13(3) in two stages in 2007 and 2010 to include proviso 6 and 7 that regularised liquor bars irrespective of the standards of these establishments. These establishments cannot be summarily denied renewal of licences, without being issued notices to improve standards as part of natural justice.

Moreover, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Supreme Court and the Ramachandran Commission had not recommended the closure of substandard liquor bars. The Supreme Court had merely directed that the applications of four-star hotels for bar licence should not be rejected till the government took steps against 418 bars which were below standard.

It appears that the government has only three options before it. The first one and extreme step is to cancel the regularisation given by the previous LDF government. The second is to issue temporary licences, with the condition that they improve their standards within a stipulated period and the third, which is touted as the most practical by government sources, is to give licences to those bars that have two-star facility, besides appointing a committee to evaluate their status. This would go a long way in helping Mr. Chandy achieve his aim and Mr. Sudheeran realise his objective of reducing the numbers.