In yet another u-turn, the ruling DMK government on Monday (April 24) revoked its decision to grant permission to serve liquor in commercial premises, such as wedding halls, banquet halls and sports stadiums, and non-commercial premises, such as households hosting celebrations, functions and parties.
In a notification issued on March 18, 2023, the DMK government amended the Tamil Nadu Liquor (Licence and Permit) Rules, 1981, to provide permission for possession of liquor and serving to the guests, visitors and participants in the international/national summits and events/conferences/celebrations/festivals etc.
"The special permission valid for a specific time duration for one or more days shall be issued by the deputy commissioner/assistant commissioner (excise) with prior approval of the district collector on payment of licence fees as specified," the notification stated.
The notification also fixed the rates for obtaining the special licence for "one-time" possession and supply of liquor in commercial and non-commercial settings. (₹11,000 in the municipal corporation limits, ₹7,500 in the municipal boundaries and ₹5,000 at other places).
However, the notification permitting the possession and serving of liquor in public places through a special licence evoked sharp criticism from opposition parties and even the allies of the ruling DMK.
Pointing out the election manifesto of DMK that promised to implement total prohibition in the state, AIADMK general secretary Edapadi Palaniswami said the government has not only extended the timing of state-run liquor outlets but has now allowed the sale of liquor in marriage halls and stadiums.
"This move will destroy the future of youngsters by encouraging alcohol addiction," the former CM alleged.
Demanding the immediate withdrawal of the notification, Tamil Nadu BJP president K. Annamalai alleged that the ruling DMK was attempting to increase liquor sales in the state to earn more revenue for liquor manufacturing firms owned by leading lights of the party.
Accusing the DMK of constantly indulging in activities that would lead to "societal degradation", Annamalai said that the amendment contradicted the DMK's promise of closing down liquor shops.
While addressing the media on April 14, when he released the 'DMK Files' detailing the staggering scale of wealth accumulated by DMK first family, MPs, MLAs and functionaries, Annamalai provided a list of companies owned by the ruling party members directly involved in the liquor business.
Under fire from the opposition, the ruling DMK moved to contain the fallout of its decision to facilitate the possession and serving of liquor in places such as marriage halls, banquet halls and sports stadiums.
In a clear sign that the government will beat a hasty retreat on the notification, Electricity, Prohibition and Excise Minister V Senthil Balaji denied that permission was granted to serve liquor at wedding halls.
Balaji, who is facing heat from central agencies and courts for multiple scams during his term as transport minister, refused to respond to a question by reporters on why his statement contradicts the notification issued by the state government.
He claimed that rules were relaxed to allow liquor to be served at international sporting events such as the Indian Premier League (IPL) and global investors meet (GIM) "on the basis of need" in conformity with the rules prevailing in other parts of the country.
"The government has granted permission to serve liquor only at international sports events like the IPL and at GIM, as prevailing in other states. This can't be permitted to be served at wedding events," Balaji informed reporters in Coimbatore.
Late last evening, the government announced that it had revoked its decision to grant special licences allowing the possession and serving of liquor in commercial and non-commercial premises.
DMK Hoisted By Their Own Petard?
In the run-up to the 2016 elections, the DMK repeatedly promised that it would implement total prohibition in the state.
When Stalin was the opposition leader, he frequently demanded that Tasmac outlets be shut. When the AIADMK-led government announced the reopening of liquor outlets during the first wave of COVID-19, Stalin and his party condemned the move and held large protests across the state.
Stalin and DMK workers sported black clothes and held a black flag as a symbol of protest against the AIADMK government's decision.
The party's women's wing secretary and MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi repeatedly claimed that her party was committed to closing down Tasmac liquor shops and implementing total prohibition.
"Tamil Nadu has become a State with most number of young widows in India because of alcoholism. It not only killed many youths but it also killed skills of several youngsters and rendered them unsuitable for any job." Kanimozhi alleged.
She alleged that the AIADMK government was unwilling to close Tasmac shops because "the liquor manufacturing company run by proxies of the ruling would lose revenue.
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