Kerala Assembly witnesses heated exchanges over liquor policy row; UDF boycotts

NewsDrum Desk
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Thiruvananthapuram, Jun 10 (PTI) The Kerala Assembly, convened on Monday, witnessed a heated exchange between the ruling and opposition parties regarding the ongoing liquor policy controversy that has plagued the Left government for several weeks.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan rejected the opposition's demand in the Assembly to register a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act into the allegations with regard to the "amendment" of the state's liquor policy, which met here for the first time after the Lok Sabha polls.

The members of the opposition UDF raised placards and a banner criticising the CPI(M)-led government over the allegations, then boycotted the House proceedings, They later demanded that a case be registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act and called for the resignation of the Tourism and Excise Ministers in connection with the controversy.

For over a month, the Congress has been raising corruption charges against the Pinarayi Vijayan government over its liquor policy, alleging that it was planning to amend it by accepting bribes from bar owners.

They raised the issue in the House on the first day of the session during zero hour and demanded a discussion on the raging row.

However, Excise Minister M B Rajesh dismissed the charges, stating that not even an initial discussion had been carried out regarding the amendment of the liquor policy.

He maintained that the recent department secretaries' meeting convened by the Chief Secretary and the stakeholders' meeting called by the Tourism Director had nothing to do with the liquor policy amendment, as alleged by the UDF.

He also said the opposition has been raising baseless charges against the government for over a month, citing a policy about which the government has yet to launch an initial action.

However, Congress legislator Roji M John, who sought a notice for the motion, criticised the government and said abetting corruption was also a crime, and asked why a case had not been registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Though the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, V D Satheesan, also reiterated the same demand, Vijayan intervened and made it clear that a police probe was already underway.

He accused the opposition of raising a fabricated argument and trying to create the impression that something (illegal) was happening in the state.

"The State Excise Minister himself had lodged a complaint with the Director General of Police as soon as he came across false news related to the state's liquor policy," he said.

An investigation is going on over the complaint, and appropriate action would be taken against whatever crimes had been committed, he said.

Vijayan asked whether the attempt by the opposition was to create hurdles in the ongoing police probe.

However, Satheesan questioned the CM's claim and asked what outcome could be expected in a police probe being carried out based on a complaint lodged by the Excise Minister, who is an accused in the alleged scam.

"So, a case should be registered under the Prohibition of Corruption Act on the allegations. The opposition will not compromise on the matter and will hold strong agitations inside and outside the House raising the issue," the LoP added.

Speaker A N Shamseer denied leave for the motion based on the replies of the CM and Excise Minister.

An agitated opposition raised slogans against the government and showed placards standing near the Speaker's podium.

The UDF later boycotted the House proceedings and walked out, continuing to raise slogans against the government and demanding the resignation of the Excise and Tourism ministers.

The issue of the purported withdrawal of the 'dry day' policy (which prohibits the sale of alcohol in the state on the first day of every calendar month), 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 Rajesh. PTI LGK KH