They are 40% of customers at outlets, low-end bars: Commission

The drinking habits of migrant workers may have been upset by the closure of more than 400 bars in the State on account of quality issues.

An observation in the recommendations submitted by the Justice M. Ramachandran Commission, appointed by the United Democratic Front (UDF) government to look into the Kerala Abkari policy, points towards such a possibility.

The Commission feels that the projection of Keralites as “extraordinarily thirsty for drinks may not be a true statement” considering the influx of migrant workers. “They are mostly single with good daily earnings and for want of other diversions gradually get stuck to bottles,” the Commission observed.

Stating that at least about 40 per cent of individuals visiting liquor outlets and quite a few visiting low-end bars were migrant workers, the Commission felt that “the leap in the consumption chart of alcohol during the past few years is directly proportional to this influx.”

The observation, however, evoked mixed response. Martin Patrick, a social scientist with expertise in the area of unorganised labour force, said this was just an observation not backed by any kind of studies. “It is wrong to generalise inter-State migrant workers as one of the factors for the high alcohol consumption in the State. No way do their drinking habits match the heavy alcohol consumption by local people. They may at best account for a minor share in the total alcohol sales whether it’s through bars or liquor outlets,” he said.

However, Jaymon James, district convener, Local Self Government Department Contractors State Coordination Committee, differs. “Their evenings are devoted to liquor and they mostly approach low-end bars on account of cost factor. I had employed nine migrant workers in the past but had to discontinue their service as their daily drunken brawls at their accommodation that I had rented for them became a nuisance to neighbours,” he said. Mr. James further observed that he had hardly seen them buying liquor from outlets.

Polly Joseph, district secretary, Kerala Bar Hotels Association, however, took a contradictory view stating that migrant workers invariably depended on liquor outlets. “Their numbers even in low-end bars were very limited with language barrier being a major factor,” he said.

Whatever may be the original preference of migrant workers, they are now left without any option but to approach liquor outlets and the result is very obvious. An employee at a Bevco outlet in the eastern suburb of Muvattupuzha said there had been a significant rise in the number of migrant workers approaching the outlet ever since the bars were closed.

“We have registered an increase in sale of about Rs. 1.50 lakh during this month and migrant workers are one of the important factors behind that rise,” he said.

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