Liquor consumers on a new high

CHENNAI DEC. 7. Alcohol consumers have a few things to cheer about, as the new retail outlets, run by Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation shops and cooperatives, overcome teething troubles.

For starters, "government liquor is reliable," said a section of afternoon drinkers. Secondly, the liquor is cheaper. "It came as a surprise. I used to buy a bottle of Kingfisher for anything between Rs.65 and Rs. 70. Now I get one variety for Rs. 53 and the other for Rs. 58," said a beer guzzler at Egmore. Across the city, regular consumers said the prices of most varieties came down. A bottle of a popular brand of black rum is sold at Rs. 209. "Earlier the prices were certainly high," said a shop supervisor on the Poonamallee High Road.

"Since the Government is running the trade now, we stick to the maximum retail price." Plus, there is more variety. Many shops offered at least half-a-dozen different varieties of Vodka. A new player is marketing orange, citron and grape flavours. Earlier, there was just one brand in most shops. Also, police patrols make frequent visits to the shops to make sure that tipplers do not get out of hand.

On October 26 the Government announced the takeover of the retail trade in an attempt to end cartelisation.

"The TASMAC and its agency, namely the cooperatives, will hereafter undertake the retail trade," it stated.

Opening of the shops and liquor sale commenced on November 29.

Bars yet to open

While some consumers found many positive features, others had a few complaints. One Egmore shop quoted the price of Kingfisher beer at Rs. 59, one rupee over the MRP. No receipts are given in most shops. (Many supervisors said that it was not possible to give receipts given the huge rush). Also, bars have not become functional yet.

After the takeover, the Government said the TASMAC would run the retail outlets and the bars attached to them directly in urban areas and ensure that the bars were run in an orderly and hygienic manner. But a cursory visit to shops on Blackers Road, Montieth Road and Egmore High Road revealed that cleanliness and hygienic conditions would have to wait till the teething troubles were overcome. Near Chennai Central, a helpful TASMAC supervisor said a bar run by a private operator a few shops down the road could be used. Though some shops already offer bars, a few supervisors said official bars would open only next week.

At one place, consumers were seen taking liquor in the open. The passing police patrols stopped for a while to make sure that the tipplers did not cause problems to passers-by, but did not ask anyone to stop drinking.

The initial problems posed by residents, who strongly objected to the presence of the shops in their areas, seem to have been sorted out. The TASMAC shifted out the shops in some areas. Employees attributed the problems to the pressure from the top brass to open the shops in the shortest possible time.

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