Management, police say bar has High Court nod to operate

Whether intentionally or not, the November-15 violence in Thamarassery, against the Kasturirangan recommendations on Western Ghats, has divided opinions and put an abrupt stop to a four-year agitation to close a local bar.

Protesters say the police and the bar management used the day’s violence to cripple a “peaceful” protest by residents to live a dignified life. The latter rubbishes the claim, saying the agitators used the cover of the mob violence to ransack private property.

Ten persons are under arrest for their alleged involvement in the attack on the hotel located at Karadi, overlooking the National Highway. Across the road, a ramshackle tent, which had served as the agitators’ nerve centre since October 2009, is in a partially collapsed state.

On Tuesday, women, children, and families, some living next door to the hotel, took their protest to the District Collectorate here. They sought protection and the freedom to continue to exercise their right to protest against the bar.

The strife started a few years ago when a private person — residents say he was a teacher — bought the land where the hotel is situated. “We were told that he was going to build his home there. Instead, he built a hotel with a bar,” K.K. Moosa, a resident, says. Protests led to the bar management and the residents inking an agreement that the establishment would not sell liquor, even if it is sold to a third party.

“They broke the promise and took us to the High Court. The court ordered that the bar was legal, but the residents could continue their protests in a democratic manner without disturbing the establishment’s functioning and keeping a distance of 50 m,” Eyachery Kunhikrishnan, chairman, Madyaviruddha Janakeeyavedi, says.

Residents like Fausiya claim that they are at the receiving end of the disturbance caused by the bar’s drunk clients. “Everybody is accusing us of throwing stones at the bar. But we are being thrown at. Broken bottles, stones, and food packets litter our front yards,” she says, holding her toddler.

‘Polluting wells’

“There are six houses next to the hotel. The sewage from the hotel enters our plots. Our wells are dirty. We had given copies of the water quality report to the panchayat, but it was of no use. We cannot even touch the water,” Mushara says.

“The bar is functioning without the panchayat’s no-objection certificate or Dangerous and Offensive Articles and Trade licence,” Mr. Kunhikrishnan says. He contends that the establishment “breaks the law” by selling liquor on the side of an NH.

However, Thomas Podimattam, General Manager of the hotel, slings the mud back at the protestors.

He says his management had taken over the establishment only six months ago and guarantees there have been no offensive behaviour from his clientele. “It is rubbish. They have been attacking the hotel and our clients. They are the perpetrators. We had fixed surveillance cameras to capture their activities against us. This had frustrated their plans. So they used the violence to ransack the hotel,” Mr. Podimattam says.

High Court order

He adds that the protestors do not even comply with the High Court direction to maintain the mandatory 50-m distance from the hotel.

“The High Court had only given them permission to protest using democratic means while clearly observing that the functioning of the bar in that area was legal. Certain persons are using the residents and Gandhian activists as a front while resorting to violence,” Jaison K. Abraham, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Thamarassery, says.

Asked about the veracity of the arrest of 10 persons, he says “They were arrested on basis of clear video and audio footage of their involvement in the bar attack . Please know that we have not registered any case against the Gandhians or those who resorted to peaceful means of protest.”

“The hotel was under the protection of the police. At the time of the attack, there was not a single policeman on the premises. We tried calling the police officers to inform them about the attack, but there was no response. They have shown dereliction of duty and we are taking the blame for it,” Mr. Kunhikrishnan says.

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