The KPCC president and the Excise Minister are not exactly on the same page in the bar licence row

Ever since the State government decided not to renew the licences of 418 bars, Kerala has been witness to a verbal sparring between Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president V.M. Sudheeran and Excise Minister K. Babu. Two months have passed, but there is no sign of their battle of wits reaching some finality or the row over bar licence being resolved.

A die-hard prohibitionist, Mr. Sudheeran has not hesitated to throw barbs at the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government over the issue at public meetings. Crimes and accidents, he has stated many a time citing police statistics, have dropped after the closure of the 418 ‘tainted’ bars. Why, even the number of people lying on pavements in drunken stupor has dropped, he says.

Mr. Babu thinks otherwise and he too has figures to back him up, though these are from his own department. According to the Minister, the closure of the bars has not brought down the level of alcohol consumption in the State. Habitual drinkers are still buying liquor from the outlets of the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco) and guzzling it with gusto, he says, putting the rise in liquor sale from Bevco outlets at 22 per cent. Six lakh additional litres of liquor was sold in the first two weeks of May as compared to the same period last year and revenue from liquor sales touched Rs.92 crore in April whereas the figure was Rs.63 crore for the corresponding period in 2013, he says.

After joining the issue initially, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has backed out from the fray, giving the impression that he wants the problem to find its own solution or a solution to come from beyond the government and the party.

A costly good turn?

Is there something more than meets the eye behind the UDF leadership’s recommendation that the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008, be amended? Perhaps not, but it looks like a good turn for those running wood-based industrial units, particularly those clustered in Ernakulam.

The plywood industry in the district has been flourishing in the district, but at the cost of environment. An Empowered Committee appointed by the Supreme Court, based on a petition filed by a Perumbavur resident, had found that many of the industrial units in question had violated the Land Utilisation Order, 1967, by setting up units in illegally filled up agricultural fields. Now that the political leadership has expressed itself in favour of amending the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, the plywood industry owners have every reason to feel happy. But, will the residents take it lying down?

No trust, but no move

When the UDF shied away from moving a no-confidence motion against the LDF-controlled Kollam municipal corporation council, the political reasons behind the decision were obvious. But what went unnoticed was the second reason: the UDF councillors’ fears about the people of Kollam turning against them over the garbage issue at a time when the local body elections are round the corner.

With 27 members each in the 55-member corporation, UDF and LDF have equal strength in the corporation council. The lone PDP member is reportedly ready to back the UDF motion, but KPCC president V.M. Sudheeran is averse to using PDP support to push through the no-trust motion. But what weighed more with the UDF corporators was the garbage menace. If UDF takes over the corporation administration, the people would expect it to provide a solution for the garbage menace. Since an easy solution is almost impossible, it would be better to let the LDF carry on for some more time so that the UDF could gain some additional mileage in the elections, so went the argument. Finally, that argument appears to have won the day and LDF is still in control of the corporation.

An uphill task

The Idukki district administration appears to be on a revamp mode with the aim of bringing the 12 district government offices under a single roof at Painavu. The offices are now spread over different parts of Thodupuzha and Kattappana, but District Collector Ajit Patil’s plans to bring all of them under a single roof might hit a road block if the transportation facilities in the district do not get a leg-up.

Though the collectorate is located almost at the centre of the district, it is a tough task for the people and officials to negotiate their way through the forest area. Given the limited transportation facilities to reach the collectorate, people from remote parts of the district must stay at Cheruthoni overnight and proceed the next morning.

There are only a few buses on the Thodupuzha-Puliyanmala State Highway, which passes through the Idukki wildlife sanctuary. There are jeeps that ply in the route, but they too will not be available between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Which means the Collector’s first task would be to improve the transport facilities and then think of bringing the entire district administration under one roof, and that is easier said than done.

With inputs from Biju Govind (Kozhikode), R. Ramabhadran Pillai (Kochi), Ignatius Pereira (Kollam), and Giji K. Raman (Idukki)


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