Kerala liquor policy row: Congress rejects Tourism Director's claim

Congress on Monday rejected the Kerala Tourism Director's claim that the recent stakeholders' meeting conducted by the department had nothing to do with the government's liquor policy and alleged that the officials were forced to tell lies to protect the ministers.
Leader of Opposition in the Assembly V D Satheesan rejects Tourism Director's claim
Leader of Opposition in the Assembly V D Satheesan rejects Tourism Director's claim

Thiruvananthapuram/Kozhikode | Congress on Monday rejected the Kerala Tourism Director's claim that the recent stakeholders' meeting conducted by the department had nothing to do with the government's liquor policy and alleged that the officials were forced to tell lies to protect the ministers.

The grand old party reiterated its allegation that the decision to amend the liquor policy was taken during a meeting convened by the Tourism Department on May 21.

The bar owners had met at Ernakulam and decided to collect money to get a "favourable liquor policy" after that meeting, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly V D Satheesan claimed.

"It was clearly said in the purported audio clip of one of the bar owners that nothing would happen if the money was not received," he told reporters here.

Satheesan charged that the Tourism Director had issued the press statement soon after the opposition made it clear that both the Tourism and Excise ministers were lying on the matter.

He also alleged that the subject of the link of the Zoom meeting, convened by the Tourism Director, was given as 'liquor policy review'.

The LoP also sought to know whether the statement issued in the name of the Tourism Director was prepared at the Tourism Minister's office. He alleged that officials were forced to protect the ministers involved in the corruption.

However, Tourism Minister P A Mohammed Riyas today continued to reject the allegations of the Congress and made it clear that the May 21 meeting was a regular one.

It was normal for the Directorate to convene such meetings of stakeholders, and it comes under the jurisdiction of the Tourism Director, he told reporters in Kozhikode.

Riyas also suspected that there was an agenda to drag his name into the controversy.

As the opposition mounted its attack on the state government, saying it held a recent meeting of tourism stakeholders to change its liquor policy, the Kerala Tourism Directorate refuted the charges on Sunday, saying the May 21 meeting was just a regular one.

Terming the media reports in this regard "misleading", Tourism Director Sikha Surendran said the meeting was attended by industry groupings of resorts, hotels, houseboats, and event management groups, all of which play a significant role in developing the tourism sector.

The meeting was not convened on the directions of the Tourism Minister, Surendran said in a statement.

Slamming the government, the Congress has alleged that bar owners also took part in the meeting held over video-conferencing platform Zoom on May 21, and that discussions on the 'dry day' and the extension of opening hours of bars were held.

The opposition criticism came after reports that the state government was considering scrapping the 'dry day' norm (which prohibits the sale of alcohol in the state on the first day of every calendar month), sparking a political storm in the state.

While the Congress-led UDF has accused the LDF government of taking bribes from bar owners to favour them, the Left claims it has not yet held any deliberations over its liquor policy.

The issue of the purported withdrawal of the 'dry day' policy snowballed into a controversy after an audio clip said to be of a bar association member allegedly asking other members to pay money for a 'favourable liquor policy' was aired on TV channels.

The UDF came out with allegations that the Left government sought Rs 20 crore from bar owners to make a policy favourable to them and demanded the resignation of Excise Minister M B Rajesh.

Brushing aside the allegations and the opposition's demand, Rajesh said the state government has not yet held any deliberations regarding its liquor policy.

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