Government backs down, withdraws brewery licences

Government backs down, withdraws brewery licences
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced on Monday that the licences granted to three breweries and one blending-cum-bottling plant had been withdrawn.

Thiruvananthapuram: Barely four days after he first came out in aggressive defence of the decision, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced on Monday that the licences granted to three breweries and one blending-cum-bottling plant had been withdrawn. The chief minister, even while withdrawing the licence, said the Excise Department had not done anything wrong while granting the nod. The decision has come close on the heels of the Malayala Manorama report that the CPM State Secretariat had asked the government to do a thorough evaluation of the steps taken to grant the licences. It was reported that the decision was taken without discussing with the party.

Nonetheless, the policy of granting licences to new brewery units and bottling plants will stay. “Those interested can still send in their applications,” the chief minister said. “They will be granted licences after the mandatory technical inspections,” he added. The chief minister repeated his earlier argument that the state needed to be self-sufficient in liquor production. He said the state now imported 8 percent of its IMFL and 40 percent of its beer requirements.

When asked whether he was giving in to the opposition's demand, the chief minister said: “We are making a small compromise because we don't want the state to be caught in a state of confusion over the issue when the need of the hour was to stand united for the reconstruction of the state.”

The three companies that were given in-principle nod to start brewery units were: Sreedharan Brewery Pvt Ltd, Kannur; Apollo Distilleries and Breweries, Elappalli, Palakkad; and Power Infra Tech Pvt Ltd, Ernakulam. Sree Chakra Distilleries was given the nod to start a compounding-blending-bottling unit. The chief minister said the four units could re-submit their applications.

Chennithala had alleged that all the four sanctions were steeped in mystery. “In two of the cases, the applications had not even stated the location of the proposed units. An application, if it is filed according to norms, should have the plan sketch of the site, its survey number, details of the building and machinery involved,” the opposition leader said.

He had said that KINFRA's role was also suspect. “The land has been allotted by the general manager (projects), who happens to be the son of a prominent CPM leader. What I have gathered is that this man has no power to accord such a sanction. The application has to be received by the managing director, and the allotment has to be done by the general manager (business development). Even the Ernakulam District Industrial Committee has been kept in the dark,” he said.

Chennithala's major contention was that the decision violated an order issued by the state government in 1999. The chief minister, even while announcing the cancellation of licenses on Monday, argued that the 1999 order (issued by the the taxes principal secretary Vinod Rai) had been wrongly interpreted. He said the order, issued on September 29, 1999, did not say that no new units should be sanctioned in future.

Chennithala had countered this saying: “Many governments, including that of the LDF, had filed affidavits in both the High Court and the Supreme Court saying that the 1999 order was government policy. Even the orders received from the courts were based on the 1999 order. Chennithala also produced a note written by excise commissioner Rishi Raj Singh that stated that the 1999 order was existing government policy.

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