Kerala govt. explores crowd-control options as liquor sale resumes tomorrow

Excise Minister M.V. Govindan   | Photo Credit: VIBHU H

Excise Minister M.V. Govindan on Wednesday convened a top-level meeting of officials to discuss the resumption of sale of legal alcohol in Kerala from June 17.

A senior excise official said measures to prevent crowding in front of liquor outlets were high on the official agenda. From 9 a.m. on Thursday, people will be able to buy liquor from Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco) outlets and bars as takeaway.

The government has permitted the sale of liquor in Category A and Category B zones. In Category A, the average weekly test positivity rate (TPR) is less than 8% and in B, it is between 8% and 20%. There would be no liquor sale on weekends when the State would shut down totally.

Still banned

The administration has prohibited the sale of liquor in localities categorised as high spread areas (TPR above 20% and below 30%) and critical spread (TPR above 30%) zones. It has prohibited bars from serving customers or permitting in-house dining.

The government had ordered the Excise Department to launch a mobile phone application through which buyers could reserve their time slot to prevent them swamping bars and liquor stores. The Bev-Q application had proved cumbersome when the government introduced it last year.

An official said the measure was necessary to regulate the anticipated initial surge of buyers. The application was not a permanent arrangement, and the department would withdraw it once the liquor sale stabilised. The department would also look at other options to regulate sales, he said.

Prohibition from May 8

On May 8, the government had prohibited the sale of legal alcohol in Kerala as part of the Statewide shutdown of non-essential services to bridle the aggressive second wave of COVID-19.

The prohibition had spawned an underground market in branded liquor and moonshine. Kerala has among the highest per capita liquor consumption rates in the country. The demand for low-priced brands is exceptionally high in the State. As per official records, the average monthly sale of liquor during the 2019-2020 period was ₹1,225 crore despite the lockdown.

Illegal brewing on the up

However, the 40-day liquor ban had created a colossal mismatch between demand and supply. Officials said illicit distillers had stepped into bridge the gap. Unlawful brewing at homes for individual consumption had also registered an upswing, officials said. They said bootleggers had specifically targeted daily drinkers who patronised low-priced brands.

They had created clandestine supply networks that leaned heavily on encrypted mobile phone communication and inconspicuous couriers. Criminal gangs sensing an opportunity had invested heavily in illicit distillation, providing men, material and protection.

The Excise Department hoped the resumption of the sale of legal alcohol would prevent bootleggers from gaining a toehold in the State’s massive market for cheap liquor.

‘No’ to door delivery

The government had earlier ruled out e-commerce backed front-door delivery of liquor. The Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KCBC) and Muslim social organisations had opposed the proposal. These forums were supported by Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 8:58:15 PM |

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