Sales dip; liquor outlets in the city staring at the possibility of seasonal business like tourism

Bars are facing the heat.

There has been an unprecedented drop in the sale of liquor through bar and beverages outlets to the tune of Rs. 8 crore during this Onam and footfalls during Sundays when they used to teem with customers earlier.

You can credit it to (or blame it on if you are on the other side of the fence) the combing operations of the Motor Vehicles Department and the police, revised operational timings and large-scale awareness campaigns.

To make matters worse for the bar operators, Transport Commissioner Rishi Raj Singh’s recent order to suspend the driving license of those booked for drunk driving have further depleted the flow of customers.

“We have recorded a dip of at least 15 per cent in the business ever since the Transport Commissioner’s order about a month back. In fact, the city bars have registered a dip of almost 40-50 per cent in business over the last four years,” said Jose Pradeep, district president of Kerala Bar Hotels Association. He, however, said things were relatively unchanged in villages where combing was not as strict as in the city.

Restricting the operating hours of bars between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m., unlike earlier when they were allowed to remain open from sunup to midnight, has also been sales dampener.

Mr. Pradeep said like the tourism industry, bars are also gradually staring at a seasonal business. “Business improves considerably between November and February coinciding with tourism season. Unlike the local customers who risk hefty fine and suspension of license if caught while driving home after having his share of drinks, the tourists often come in cabs. Besides, it is also the season when rooms in bars are occupied and that leads to a corresponding surge in liquor sales,” he said.

Though many bars now provide the service of drivers, an average customer can hardly afford it. A customer will have to pay on an average Rs. 300 for a drop in the three-kilometre radius from the bar.

Motor Vehicles Department sources said there was a perceptible drop in the cases booked for drunk driving ever since the Transport Commissioner’s recent order to make no compromise about suspending licence. In fact, those booked face twin punishment – suspension of licence for six months to one year and a fine of Rs. 3,000. Not to mention the loss of time waiting to pay the fine in the court. One could be looking at the twin punishment if the alcohol content in their blood exceeds 30 mg.

“We no longer have a dearth of breathalyzers and almost all our vehicles are equipped with at least one. Earlier, we had to take them to a hospital or the nearest police station to take the reading of alcohol content in their blood,” a senior MVD official said.

Minister for Excise K. Babu said the department’s awareness campaigns had begun to show results. “Last year we spent Rs. 2 crore on awareness while this year we have already spent more than Rs. 50 lakh,” he said.

The minister said the State government’s spending on awareness campaigns need to be compared with the mere Rs. 20 lakh the previous government had spent on it. “We are now looking at avenues to raise more resources in addition to the government funds to further the awareness drive,” Mr. Babu said.

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