India's Kerala state eases alcohol ban

Indian models gestures as she holds bottles of Kingfisher beer during the launch of commemorative packs of 'Indian October Fest' beer bottles Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kerala's tourism industry was hit due to the ban

The southern Indian state of Kerala has eased its ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol.

The ruling left-wing coalition has reversed the previous Congress-led government's decision to shut all bars expect those in five-star hotels.

The new policy states that two and three-star hotels can now serve liquor, and new bars will be able to apply for licences.

The government said it believed in restraint and not prohibition.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said there had been "a steep increase in substance abuse" since the restrictions were approved in 2015.

"Prohibition has not succeeded anywhere in the world. It only helped drug smugglers and bootlegging. Here [in Kerala] we are experiencing a dangerous situation of alcoholics turning to drugs and posing a threat to the society," he said.

Bars will now be allowed to remain open until 2300, instead of the earlier deadline of 2200. Lounges at domestic airports will also be allowed to serve foreign liquor.

A major part of Kerala's income comes from tourism, and experts say the ban on alcohol had badly hurt the industry.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A major part of Kerala's income comes from tourism

Before the ban was enforced, the state had India's highest per capita alcohol consumption, at more than eight litres per person per year.

The national annual average for alcohol consumption is estimated to be about 5.7 litres per person.

The Congress party and its key ally, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), have criticised the new policy.

"They have kept their promise to the liquor lobby made during the elections in return for their help," said MM Hassan, the Congress party president in the state.

"It has now become clear that this nexus was behind the conspiracy to overthrow our government."

Reporting by Ashraf Padanna

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