Keeping its double-digit annual rise, consumption of liquor in Kerala?with the highest per capita alcohol consumption in the country?set yet another record this Onam season.

The Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco), the State's liquor retail monopoly that is by far the largest public-sector revenue-earner for the State government, sold liquor worth Rs.155.16 crore during the six-day run-up to Thiruvonam. This is a jump of over 17 per cent over last year's sale of Rs.132.34 during the same period.

On the Pooradam day (Saturday), Bevco sold liquor worth Rs.34.13 crore and the following day, on Uthradom, the sales outlets had a turnover of Rs.30.31 crore.

Onam brings in the largest sales turnover in a year for Bevco, followed by Christmas. However, the Christmas-New Year season, which extends to 10 days, is the biggest grosser.

Bevco's sales have been on a roll for the past five years. In the last financial year, it sold liquor worth Rs.5,540 crore and this year it hopes this figure will go beyond Rs.6,500 crore. This year, the rise in turnover is likely to hit 20 per cent.

The Bevco is the largest contributor of revenue to the State government. No other public-sector enterprise in the State rakes in as much money as Bevco.

Massive profits

From every Rs.100 worth of liquor the Bevco sells, the government extracts Rs.82. When Bevco purchases liquor worth Rs.100 from the manufacturer, it sells it to the consumer at more than Rs.600. In other words, the consumer pays more than five times the actual price of the liquor. The rest goes to the government in the form of a slew of taxes.

For instance, when Bevco buys liquor from the manufacturer for Rs.100, it pays 100 per cent excise duty, taking the initial cost to Rs.200. On this price, it pays 36 per cent warehousing margin (that is, Rs.72). On this, there is a 20 per cent retail margin for Bevco. After all these costs are added up, the government imposes a 100 per cent sales tax. The net result is that a consumer pays more than Rs.500 extra on the actual price of Rs.100.

In spite of this astronomical taxes and costs, the liquor consumption grows nearly by a fifth every year and more and more youngsters join the large army of drinkers. A Minister in the State recently commented that liquor was the only product whose price rise the consumers do not protest against.

It should be noted that apart from the liquor sold through the Bevco, a large quantity of Indian-made foreign liquor flows into the State illegally. Then there is toddy in circulation, plus illicit local brews and ?artificial toddy' that is made of ?spirit' and some chemicals.