As the sun rises, Girish starts cleaning his houseboat on the banks of the Vembanad lake. He peeps out as he hears footsteps outside, hoping its a tourist.”It’s hot, election time and top of that this liquor regulation. There has been a drop in tourist traffic. Besides, an impression is there outside that Kerala has totally gone dry,” he says.Others like him in the houseboats anchored on the banks have similar laments. Asked about the election scene, Rajesh, another boatman, says “we are all CPM supporters”.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>While the backing for senior CPM leader and former state finance minister TM Thomas Isaac may have little to do with UDF government’s liquor regulation policy, the anger over it is palpable, particularly among those involved in the tourism business. In a state with one of the highest rate of unemployment in the country at 7.4 per cent, promises of jobs through tourism have been made by LDF and UDF.The queues at government outlets have grown longer, after the Oomen Chandy government prohibited liquor sale in all private places, barring bars and restaurants in five-star hotels. In other hotels and restaurants in the state now, the sign boards say “beer and wine”.”The liquor policy is not good for tourism. In the backwaters, a lot of conference and incentive groups used to come but now they are going to other states,” said VC Zachariah, President of the Kerala Houseboat Owners Federation.The tourism fraternity has requested government to reduce the cost of one day permit for such meetings basing it on number of people and also make it available online. At present the permit costs Rs 50,000 per day.Tourism had started picking up steadily in Kerala since early 2000s, except during the 2007-08 recession. Most of the tourists in Alappuzha, which gets one of the highest traffic in the state, come from Europe, while those from the US and Australia were on the rise, said Zachariah, who has been in the tourism business for two decades.There are nearly 1,000 houseboats in Allepey. There was around 15-20 per cent reduction in tourist traffic in the backwaters, according to Zachariah. While tour operators said there has been a decline in tourist traffic, Kerala’s tourism department claims foreign tourist arrival has increased in 2015 by 5.86 per cent over the previous year and domestic by 6.59 per cent. Total revenue from tourism was Rs 26689.63 crore in 2105, according to Kerala tourism.Shamji, who runs a luxury houseboat, also resented the drop in “big companies” deciding on Kerala as the destination. “It’s the weekend. But, there are hardly any tourists. And now the youth take kanjaav (cannabis) and use an eye drop to reduce the redness in the eyes,” he said.Social scientist AM Oomen said banning liquor only takes it underground. “While its a major source of revenue, it’s also a moral and ethical issue. The women are for it. But prohibition has its flip side. One has to approach it not emotionally, but practically,” he said.Thomas Chandy, the LDF candidate from Kuttanad, described the liquor policy as “foolish”. Arguing it was futile, he said earlier he used to see 14-15 people in queues at state corporation’s beverage outlets, but now he saw up to 400. “The tourism industry here will collapse. We used to have 25-30 conferences a year. It has got reduced to just five. My question to government is whether any study was conducted before banning liquor in bars,” he said.With elections around the corner, the issue has forced political parties to take a stand. The CPM-led LDF is treading cautiously on the issue, which has traction among women and religious leaders, particularly the Catholic Church. While it has opposed prohibition, it’s election manifesto said it would focus on liquor abstinence and raise the age limit to 23 for liquor consumption in the state. In 1996 when the UDF banned country ahead of elections, the LDF won.The BJP, which in alliance with BJDS is hoping to make inroads into the assembly, is also in favour of creating awareness instead of banning alcohol. “The BJP is of the view that one has to create awareness about the dangers of alcohol, particularly among youth….. Now, drinking has just shifted from the bar to the home,” said Kummanam Rajasekharan, the BJP’s state president.While justifying the decision saying it was crucial for family peace, the chief minister has also admitted that it will affect tourist places and generate problem of illicit liquor. The UDF, however, has expressed its determination to go ahead with phased prohibition. After cancelling 730 bar licenses, the state government has also decided against allowing three and four star hotels to convert to five stars. There are 24-26 five star hotels in the state.Cautious stepsWith elections around the corner, the issue has forced political parties to take a stand. The CPM-led LDF is treading cautiously on the issue, which has traction among women and religious leaders, particularly the Catholic Church. While it has opposed prohibition, it’s election manifesto said it would focus on liquor abstinence and raise the age limit to 23 for liquor consumption in the state. In 1996 when the UDF banned country ahead of elections, the LDF won. The BJP, which in alliance with BJDS is hoping to make inroads into the assembly, is also in favour of creating awareness instead of banning alcohol

Original link:  

As UDF takes on Bacchus, Kerala’s backwaters left in low spirits