Law prohibiting liquor sale promotion observed more in the breach

Early this month, Excise Commissioner Anil Xavier’s special squad fined a bar hotel in the district on the charge of promoting the sale of alcohol by offering incentives to customers.

In this particular case, the incentives included a measure of liquor (60 ml) free for every peg purchased. The bar management also gave their clients tickets to participate in a lucky dip if they ran up a bill of not less than Rs.100.

The “instant lottery” was held on the hotel premises and prizes on offer ranged from bicycles to plastic vessels. The squad fined the bar hotel Rs.50,000, and warned the management that its operating licence would be cancelled if the offense was repeated. The law prohibits the promotion of liquor sale. However, Excise enforcers said, it was observed more in the breach in the district, particularly during the run-up to the Christmas-New Year season.

Every year, the season witnesses intense competition between liquor companies that introduce new products and makers of already popular brands for the large retail market for alcohol in the State. Many companies, often, subsidise the sale of liquor through bars, and offer salesmen commission for promoting their products.

The competition has also manifested as indirect promotion of the sale of liquor through surrogate advertisements, including on television and as hoardings.

In order to circumvent the law, certain liquor companies lend the name of their popular products to glassware, sportswear, and packaged soda. However, such products are rarely available in the market.

Excise enforcers said making wine of questionable proof and quality in backyard wineries without government licence, and retailing it at fairs and through confectionaries as ‘home-made wine’ was another classic “abkari crime” typical of the season.

They said they would write to women self-help groups to desist from the practice of retailing ‘home-made’ wine as it opened the door to unregulated sale of liquor of dubious quality.

Shopping malls, bakeries, convenience stores, and other outlets selling branded or ‘home-made’ liquor products would be booked under the provisions of the Abkari Act this year, a senior Excise official said.

However, places of worship could take a temporary winery licence to make their own wine, to be used only for religious purpose.

The sale of bottled beverages labelled as ‘non-alcoholic wine/beer’ was rampant in the district. Excise enforcers said such beverages had found a vibrant market among teenagers below the legal drinking age.

The oddly-labelled drinks claim to reproduce the taste and fizz of beer and wine without the intrinsic inebriating effects of the original brews. Excise enforcers, who chemically sampled some of the products, last year, said they found, contrary to the claim of the manufacturers, that the beverages had alcohol content.