State imposes total prohibition

A long queue in front of a Bevco outlet in Malappuram before the announcement of total prohibition in the State on Wednesday.

A long queue in front of a Bevco outlet in Malappuram before the announcement of total prohibition in the State on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: Sakeer Hussain

Bevco outlets closed, but govt. weighs online sale of alcohol

The State government on Wednesday imposed total prohibition in the State to prevent people from queuing up in front of State-run liquor outlets during the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, it is weighing a proposal to allow the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco) or currently shuttered bars to sell liquor online or as takeaways. At present, it is illegal for bars to allow customers to take away alcohol as parcels. Hence, the government will have to tweak the liquor rules to approve the proposed transaction.

The State has arguably the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country. The sale of legal liquor is a significant source of State revenue. In 2018-19, Bevco raked in ₹14,504.67 crore from the sale of branded liquor, beer and wine, a rise of ₹1,567.8 crore compared to the previous financial year. Bevco operated around 280 outlets across the State.

The Excise Department had earlier cautioned the government that a total ban on the sale of legal liquor could open the door for the entry of bootleg and illicit spirit of dubious quality and suspicious provenance into Kerala. It had pointed out that the government had not reckoned excise enforcement as an essential service, hampering efforts to use more officers for field inspections and border checks.

The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition and the Indian Medical Association had flagged the need to shutter liquor shops to stop people from gathering publicly.

The police and Excise Department had told the government that tight lines in front of the Bevco outlets posed public health risk and they had struggled to persuade buyers to observe the social distance norm of at least 1.5 m between individuals.

Moreover, various trade unions had told the government that an increasing number of Bevco employees had expressed reluctance to report for duty out of fear that they could contract COVID-19 infection from customers.

Officials said the 21-day lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday appeared to be the last straw that prompted the State to shut the liquor outlets. The Centre had not mentioned ‘beverages’ in its list of essential items exempted from the lockdown.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 11:19:42 AM |

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