Water resources in all the districts selected to set up the breweries are depleting fast. Where are they going to get the water needed to manufacture beer? No one knows. The Left Front government seems to be moving on the wrong side of the road to development.
The controversy surrounding the allotment of three breweries and a distillery in Kerala by the Left Front government is turning murkier by the day, with the Opposition dragging the son of a senior CPM leader into it, giving more credence to the corruption angle and nepotism, the bane of Communist governments.
The son in question, T. Unnikrishnan, is project general manager with the Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (Kinfra). His father, Koliakode Krishnan Nair is a member of CPM’s state committee.
Unnikrishnan, whose very appointment is now under political cloud, has admitted that he in his capacity as general manager in charge of projects had written to the brewery about the availability of land, but denies allotting the land to the party concerned.
He has also said that he wrote the letter in order to clarify that such land could be transferred only after clearance from other departments.
However, his letter, published by one of the Malayalam dailies, says Kinfra was ready to “transfer the land”.
There is no mention about other technicalities needed for the transfer. Unnikrishnan’s letter has only added to the confusion prevailing in the government and the Opposition over sanctioning of the projects.
But at whose behest Unnikrishnan sanctioned the land remains a mystery. While the three breweries are planned in the districts of Kannur, Palakkad and Ernakulam, the distillery will be located in Thrissur. Congress’ Leader of Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala had alleged that one of the breweries was sanctioned ten acres of non-existent land inside the Kinfra’s technology park in Kalamassery, Ernakulam. Minister for Industries, E.P. Jayarajan had refuted the claim saying Kinfra only confirmed the availability of land inside the park and not allotted the same to any party. In 2016, just four months into the Left Front coming to power, Jayarajan had to quit the ministry following allegations of nepotism. He is now in the Cabinet after being “cleared” by the state vigilance commission, which, incidentally, has also written off over a dozen other corruption cases pending before it.
Though Jayarajan said if land was available it would be given away, he did not reveal that Kinfra had written a letter to one of the brewery bidders offering the land.
“Nothing wrong has been done and we will give more licences, if required,” Jayarajan told media persons. The Left Front government had apparently sanctioned the projects before the state came under the deluge, but did not reveal the same till Chennithala brought it to public notice last week.
Even then the government was not ready to spell out the details of the projects, with the industry and excise ministers failing to answer questions raised by the Opposition.
This had only added to the suspicion that the government was trying to hide something. Chennithala has accused the government of using the Kinfra offer to invite liquor barons preferred by the ruling party—two of them are new to manufacturing, but are close to the CPM—to set up units in Ernakulam, Thrissur and Palakkad districts. The Cabinet was not consulted and the floods were used as an excuse for not making the deal public.
But his latest bid to drag in the name of a senior CPM leader may not have much impact, though there are not many takers for the Left government move to make the state self-sufficient in liquor.
Most of these units, if and when they come up, especially the one planned in Palakkad, are likely to run into direct confrontation with local residents and environmentalists. Senior CPM leader, V.S. Achuthanandan, who represents Malampuzha in Pallakkad district, has already called for a review of the government decision. Palakkad, perennially short of drinking water, is already home to more than a dozen bottling units and perhaps not the most appropriate place to set up another brewery.
Above all this, the question that is being asked is about the legitimacy of the government decision in allotting the new breweries. No notification inviting tenders for such projects was issued.
Moreover, since 1999, no new permits had been issued to open breweries and distilleries by governments, citing a government order issued in 1999 during the time of CPM Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar.
Past governments had also turned down requests for even micro breweries. So the decision of the present government and the secrecy surrounding such a move become questionable.
However, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had a different take on this. According to him, there was no practice of giving newspaper ads for setting up breweries or blending units in the state.
Charging the Opposition leader with misleading the public, Vijayan said, “the1999 GO does not mean that sanction should not be given for new units… The Opposition leader is trying to create a smokescreen by making unfound allegations.”
Smokescreen or not, doubts linger in the minds of the public regarding the deal, especially in the light of revelations that at least one of the companies is non-existent or exists only on paper.
Vijayan’s assurance, that even after government clearance, the departments concerned can reject the request for licence after verification, will not hold water. If a government can allot such units without any transparency, where is the question of any departmental objection coming to light? Another argument put forward by the government is development. The deluge seems to have had no impact on the government’s thinking. Water resources in all the districts selected to set up the breweries are depleting fast. Where are they going to get the water needed to manufacture beer? No one knows. The Left Front government seems to be moving on the wrong side of the road to development.