Special Correspondent

Opposition alleges large-scale import of spirit into State

Minister: Toddy shops not opened indiscriminately

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) members staged a walkout in the Assembly on Wednesday to register their protest against the Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government’s liquor policy, which, they said, had resulted in the Avaneeswaram liquor mishap claiming two lives during Onam days.

The Opposition, which made an abortive bid to seek adjournment of the proceedings to discuss the issue, took strong exception to the Government’s policy of sanctioning more toddy shops in the name of redeploying jobless toddy shop workers and without reference to the actual quantity of toddy being produced in the State. This, they said, was resulting in large-scale illegal import of spirit into the State. The toddy being sold in most shops in the State was diluted spirit laced with various other additives. The recovery of large quantities of spirit from the toddy shop at Avaneeswaram shortly after the mishap was proof of this, they said.

Excise Minister P.K. Gurudasan rebutted the Opposition charge and said the Government had not opened toddy shops indiscriminately. Each new shop had been opened according to specific norms, including the number of coconut palms being tapped. Even this had been done only in response to strident demands from Central trade unions such as the INTUC, CITU and AITUC, which wanted the Government to rehabilitate workers who had been rendered jobless following the UDF Government’s decision to close down 1,610 shops, he explained.

Excess quantities

Mr. Gurudasan said though final confirmation about the cause of the liquor mishap at Avaneeswaram was yet to be known, doctors had detected excess quantities of liquor in the body of those who had survived and preliminary tests had revealed traces of methyl alcohol. The trace of methyl alcohol was not of a magnitude to attribute the two deaths to consumption of methyl alcohol.

Aid sanctioned

The Government had decided to give Rs. 1 lakh to the families of both the victims and had given Rs. 1,000 to those who had been hospitalised, he said.

Earlier, seeking leave for the adjournment motion, K. V. Thomas (Congress) said the first accused in the liquor tragedy was the Excise Minister and the second accused the CPI(M) as they knew well that illicit spirit was being brought and supplied to people. He alleged that the DYFI workers in the locality vandalised the toddy shop immediately after the incident only to destroy evidence.

Mr. Gurudasan wanted to know how the UDF workers could unearth two cans of spirit from the same toddy shop the next day if the DYFI activists’ intention was to destroy evidence. The police and Excise had together charged 12 cases in connection with the incident.

Charge against Minister

Leading the Opposition walkout, Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy accused the Minister of trying to evade the real issue, which was the indiscriminate sanctioning of 1,610 new toddy shops even in the absence of any evidence to prove an increase in toddy productivity in Kerala. Although at least 50 coconut palms should be tapped within the jurisdiction of each toddy shop, the one at Avaneeswaram had only two palms under tapping. This clearly showed that the shops were thriving by selling illicit spirit, he said.

Mr. Gurudasan replied that the Government had sanctioned only 800 shops and that no new toddy shop had been sanctioned in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts.