Past shows, Kerala tipplers always have their way

Oommen Chandy said all bars, except 16 five-star ones, will be closed by the end of 2014.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: August 23, 2014 11:01 am
Capture Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said all bars, except 16 five-star ones, will be closed by the end of 2014. (Source: Nandagopal Rajan)


In Kerala, the state with the highest per capita liquor consumption in the country, tipplers have always had their way. While the United Democratic Front (UDF) Thursday decided to phase out liquor consumption in Kerala, the past shows that all efforts by successive governments to restrain alcohol consumption have failed.

In fact, after 418 bar hotels were closed in April, the revenue of the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bev-co) grew by 21 per cent in the past four months as compared to the same period last year. The business of bars that remained open increased manifold.

On Friday, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said all bars, except 16 five-star ones, will be closed by the end of 2014. Of the retail outlets, 39 would be closed on October 2 this year.

However, going by the current trend, people will just move to the outlets that remain open, experts said. Excise officials said the emerging situation will be conducive to bootlegging and illicit brewing. Of the 14 districts in Kerala, 10 border Karnataka or Tamil Nadu, where there is no restriction on liquor sale.

The number of cases reported under the Abkari Act, which deals with smuggling of spirits and Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL), in the past few years may give an idea of what’s in store. In 2008, the state police reported 1,975 cases under the Abkari Act. In 2010, the figure rose to 37,896 and in 2013, it reached 48,828. Till May this year, 20,120 such cases were registered.

Narcotics cases have also been rising. In 2008, the state police recorded 508 narcotics cases, but in 2013, the number reached 974. Till May this year, the figure had reached 592.

Congress leader K Muraleedharan admitted the government has a tough task at hand. “We decided to close all bars to avoid allegations of discrimination. This is an experiment, let us see what happens,” said Muraleedharan. CPM politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said by allowing five-star hotels to keep licences, the government is corporatising the liquor business. The attempt to cut down liquor consumption in Kerala started in 1996 when the then Congress CM A K Antony ordered a ban on cheap country arrack. At the time, 5,600 arrack shops were closed. The CPM-led Opposition had then challenged Antony to ban IMFL. Instead, Antony slapped a 200 per cent tax on IMFL — the highest in any Indian state. Besides, the annual licence fee of IMFL bars was increased from Rs 6 lakh to Rs 10 lakh. Now, the fee is Rs 22 lakh.

When arrack was banned, Kerala only had 411 hotels with licence to sell IMFL. The IMFL business grew since 1996 and, riding on the tourism wave, new hotel projects came up.

The period since 1996 was also marked by liquor addiction. The younger generation, who earned more from sunrise industries, started consuming liquor in the evenings. Higher wages also kept the unskilled and semi-skilled workers flowing towards cheap bars and Bevco outlets. In the last fiscal, the Bevco turnover was Rs 9,350 crore.

In the second half of the past decade, Kerala started discussing the ill effects of alcohol addiction as incidents of domestic violence went up. The impact on health and higher incidents of road accidents fuelled the debate, but alcohol consumption continued to increase. Meanwhile, the government mulled several steps. The first day of every month was declared a dry day, but tipplers started stocking extra bottles in advance.

Another step was to reduce the working hours of bars. Since 1953, bars in Kerala remained open from 6 am to midnight. Two years ago, the government reduced it by three hours per day. However, that too failed to bring down liquor consumption.

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  1. S
    Shambhu Nath
    Aug 23, 2014 at 9:00 pm
    Hungama hai kyon bhadka - thodi si jo pee hai. Daka to nahin dala chori to nahin ki hai.
    1. M
      Aug 22, 2014 at 11:45 pm
      Unless the government take steps to totally stop the illicit brewing, the purpose cant be served. Also it is found that low grade booze, mixed with narcotic additives, are being officially sold through Beverages and even the 5-Star bars. This makes a person addicted and also create law and order problems to the sociey and his family. In 1996, then CM AK Antony banned arrack. But statistics show that money spent on the costlier India-made foreign liquor by Mallus has gone up by more than 18 times in the past 18 years. The pity is that the same cheap liquor is bottled afresh with new golden labels and sold officially. Attappady is the only region in Kerala where there is a complete ban on liquor, being imposed by the state government in April 1995. Since then, virtually every tribal settlement there has turned into an illicit liquor centre. A lot of adivasi children are malnourished because men are fully addicted to hooch and woman has to do everything to bring up the family. The government should remove the tax on liquor and instead ensure that top quality is maintained. There should be very strict quality checks and more harsh punishments for those selling adulterated drinks. There can be nothing wrong if very good quality liquor is made available every where in the state
      1. G
        Aug 24, 2014 at 12:05 am
        Then while we're at it, why don't we ban all our deep fried foods,sweets,cigarettes and everything else, By banning alcohol do you actually think the average citizen loses?? NO, the state government loses, with all the revenue in taxes, The smugglers would be the only folks laughing all the way to their respective banks and thats pretty much it. Why don't people realize that we're living in the 21st century and not in the stone ages.
        1. I
          Indrajeet Upadhyay
          Aug 23, 2014 at 3:40 pm
          What about the bartenders who arr earning thier daily bread by this?
          1. C
            Aug 23, 2014 at 10:32 am
            Robert Williams the world famous comedian died of alcohol addiction and conducted shows against his own addiction. Just because the author likes others to drink and drown, he justifies the failure of prohibition. Our ancestors have proscribed and recently hiji again emphasized prohibition for all. Why mourn its death when it will definitely help the nation? If foreigners would not visit Kerala; it may collapse; claim those who live outside Kerala. Most of the news writers drink and worship the liquor but is it a justification to support drinks? with this drastic bad habit and let us celebrate its demise happily. Bapuji would bless us.
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