“When the glass is full,
Drink up! Drink up!
This maybe the last time
We see this cup.
If God wanted us sober,
He’d knock the glass over,
So while it is full we drink up!”
~ “The Drinking Song” by Jason Webley
Well it’s not actually known, whether God really wants to make Kerala, ‘God’s Own Country’ and the biggest Alcohol consumer State in the Nation sober! but the real time news is that, Kerala Government wants the State’s liquor business finally to bottoms up! No, “Achche Din” for the bibbers in Kerala, anymore!
While the Kerala Government has now taken this strong decision to close down 730 bars in the State and apply prohibition in phased manner, the liquor lobby has turned hysteric, wishing early failure of prohibition in the State.
In today only, seen that the Liquor Baron Vijay Mallya holding a press conference in Bangalore and saying desperately: “I don’t believe in prohibition… there is sufficient evidence to prove prohibition has not succeeded anywhere not even in countries like the US”.
While the State Government has envisaged achieving total prohibition, in the next 10 years, the Kerala Bar & Hotel Association is pondering legal course to counter the ban.
Kerala is planned for a complete prohibition, by Oct 2, 2023. On Gandhi’s birthday, 9 years from now!
The banning schedule has to be implemented in three Phases .
In the First Phase, the 418 bars that have been closed on April 1 this year, for lack of facilities, will not be permitted to reopen.
In the Second Phase, the 312 functioning licensed bars in the State has to be shut down.
In the Third Phase, every year, 10 % of the 384 State run retail liquor outlets, will close their business.
Kerala is the topmost liquor consumer in the country. It consumes 8.3 litres of alcohol per head in an average year (Obviously this excludes a huge flow of the local Palm Beer called Toddy).
This undoubtedly puts Kerala vahead of the second placed State Punjab, which consumes 7.9 litres of alcohol per head in a year.
The unprecedented step will indent the State’s coffers, no doubt. The State controlled liquor retailing business accounts for about one-third of Kerala’s Annual revenue earning, adding up to around Rs.10,000 crore.
And there is every possibility that it may influence one of Kerala’s biggest domestic revenue earning industry, the tourism too.
D Rajkumar, president of the Kerala Bar & Hotels Association, is furious. “How can the Government shut down overnight an entire industry in which thousands of crores have been invested and a large number of workers are employed, even without serving an advance notice?”
First the 418 liquor bars, mostly attached to small 2-star hotels, were closed on March 31 this year, just 10 days before the Lok Sabha elections, citing reasons that they lack proper facilities. The wretched bar owners were since then asking for reopening them, saying that thousands of bread earners’ right to employment was snatched overnight.
Then CM Chandy’s most recent decision came as abrupt and unexpected one. Since, just a few days back , CM Chandy was sincerely saying that the government was considering reopening the 418 ‘substandard’ bars, shut down for almost 6 months, giving them time and scope for improvement.
The same Government headed by Oommen Chandy has just initiated a plush 4,000-square-ft. retail liquor outlet in Ernakulam in June. It is air-conditioned and with impressive interior decoration, well-lit interior having the premium brands of liquors carefully arranged in king size shelves, like any supermarket abroad! A swanky liquor shop that’s worlds apart from those unimposing and crowded Kerala Beverages Corporation outlets.
The industry insiders are saying that, this abrupt ban will not only deprive the State exchequer of around Rs. 10,000 crore. That amounts nearly 20 per cent of the total revenue earning of the State, but more than 25,000 people will also lose their jobs.
Indian-Made Foreign Liquor (the IMFL) sales turnover in the Kerala, in the year 1995-96, was just Rs 477.60 crore. It rose to Rs 1,000.83 crore by the year 2000. And during the years 2013-14 it grew to astounding amount of Rs 9,350 crore!
So it’s really a big business.
Many former Enforcement and Police officers have expressed their reservation: How the Government’s machinery, that is the Enforcement wing of the Excise Department, with their limited staff, is going to ensure that liquor is not smuggled into the State, from its neighbouring States!
Kerala’s ten districts share their borders with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where there is no prohibition.
Also like Gujarat and elsewhere, the mass production of illicit liquor will create new law and order problems.
A Hotel & Bar Association member points out: Look the five Star hotels have been exempted from the liquor ban. So are the “elite clubs” and it will not touch the Armed Forces Canteens. And everyone knows that a major portion of the alcohol sold from Army Canteens, ends up to civilian consumers for a premium price”!
So, if you have money and reach…who cares prohibition!
And of course, you can’t take away the divine enjoyment of Toddy, from the not so elite Keralites!
It’s a fact, most of the liquor outlets do an average daily sale of Rs. 2 lakhs and some other in bigger cities sell Rs. 5 to 8 lakhs a day . During peak festival season like Onam, New Year Eve and Christmas, some outlets generally do business worth, Rs.10 lakhs a day and more!
The Bars cater only 20% of the liquor consumption in the State. The rest are sold by the Government run outlets. When the privately run bars are compelled to close down, Government run outlets will be there for another 10 years!
Also, the consumption of beer is continuously growing in the state. From 7 million cases in 2008-09, it reached to 10 million cases in the year 2012-13. There is no ban yet. Some 400 hotels and Restaurants have valid beer permits. So, three cheers for Beer Lovers too!
Does Prohibition Work?
After Kerala brought in its optimistic plan to ban liquor in the State, Indian liquor industry pundits have now pulled out a World Health Organization (WHO) report which has outlined the opposing impact of measures like Prohibition.
The 2014 WHO report on alcohol and health revealed that 50% of the alcohol consumed in our country is simply unaccounted and is mostly not paying taxes, or not engaged in organised commercial activities and often spurious products.
The report somehow seems helping the powerful liquor lobby by saying that measures like Prohibition generally lead to restrictions, creating risks to consumers, limiting commercial and consumer freedoms, and encouraging the black market.
According to a big Liquor company official: “It’s nothing but a retrograde measure that snatches the livelihood of thousands of workers in the sector and of course, takes away the right of choice of drinking, from the consumers.”
Only in July last, the North Eastern State of Mizoram has ended a 17-year Prohibition, and reportedly the neighbouring Nagaland is also considering such a move!
Remember ’Nashabandi’(Prohibition) in Haryana? It was enforced in 1996. The Bansi Lal-led Haryana Vikas Party and Bharatiya Janata Party coalition had decided to lift prohibition in the state from April fool’s day, within just two years!
It was the euphoria and slogans around the prohibition that led the HVP-BJP alliance to victory in the Assembly polls.
Prohibition has not only cost the State coffer Rs 1,200 crore during the period. The sundry Ayurvedic practitioners were in big demand during that time. Who made a big money, prescribing Ayurvedic medicines like Sura and Arisht, randomly to everyone!
And of course the State Police Malkhanaas(Depositories of confiscated goods), I was told, were the reliable source of India Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) stocks, reportedly against an exorbitant bribe!
Bashing The Bottles And More
Following the prolonged protests of the women in around 800 villages of Andhra Pradesh, against liquor and arrack sale , the then Congress government of the State enforced ban on the sale of arrack from October 1993. In the next State Assembly elections, N T Rama Rao (NTR) the charismatic leader of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) assured total prohibition and made it the party’s main election plank. TDP won the polls and NTR announced complete prohibition in Andhra Pradesh soon after he became the Chief Minister in 1994.
Andhra Pradesh Government was continuously losing around US $ 362 million annually in revenues due to prohibition. The state’s budget deficit rose to US $ 242 million in 1997. In the same year the new Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu ended prohibition, citing the State’s financial loss.
Gujarat, Mizoram, Nagaland and Lakshadweep are the only states in India that have totally prohibited the sale and consumption of liquor in their States. Gujarat has the longest prohibition. On 10 July last Mizoram lifted the 18 year long ban and reports are that Nagaland is also thinking in the same line,
Nagaland started prohibition in the year 1980. A strong Christian lobby is in the support of continuation of the liquor ban. But anyone will vouch that it is nowhere near a ‘Dry’ State . Liquor is easily available all over the State, despite 24 year old prohibition and the State is losing revenue over Rs 750 crore annually, due to prohibition!
India Made Foreign Liquors are available here in restaurants and hotels, even in grocery shops and confectioneries. In Kohima, some paan shops are famous for ready supply, at any hour. The Chandmari and Jail Colony in Kohima are the most well-known areas, for their joints , where you can get liquors of any brand in any number of shops , even late at night. Every possible “setting” is in the offing here! I have been told that several top Naga militants now retired and became successful bootleggers in Dimapur!
While the urban areas are subject to State-level restrictions, the villages have now been given higher autonomy in deciding whether to allow alcohol in their respective areas. The Panchayat Raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 , gives the Gram Sabhas “the power to enforce prohibition or to regulate or restrict the sale and consumption of any intoxicant.”
But who listens!
Alcoholic beverages are a big revenue earner for all Indian States. So Governments which have seriously considered prohibition in the recent years, like Tamil Nadu, now has a monopoly on the sale of liquor through ,Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation, just like Kerala. TN Government has earned Rs 21,800 crore from alcohol sale in the State, in 2012. In 2010, two years back, the earning was almost the half, Rs 13,000 crore.
Excise duty and sales tax on liquor contributes almost 25% of Tamil Nadu’s revenue and the sector has been growing at 15% to 23% in the last five years.
And it’s in the background of the history that C Rajagopalachari, Periyar E V Ramasami and former stalwart Chief Ministers K Kamaraj and C N Annadurai advocated strongly for prohibition.
It’s a fact that in many of the States, the liquor industry is the second-largest earner for the state exchequer. So before 2011 Assembly elections, to keep women voters happy, when Karunanidhi talked about reimposing Prohibition in Tamil Nadu, there was a big hue and cry!
Gujarat Waiting For A Malt Satyagrah!
For the liquor lover Gujaratis, Daman is the most popular destination, From Vapi to Daman, it’s almost a pilgrim’s progress to liquor God! Many sea side Restaurants in Daman has makeshift Family rooms, where even the womenfolk can enjoy their drinks in the company of the near and dear ones!
Gujarat tourism is gaining grounds, among national and international (and NRI )tourists, after making Amitabh Bachchan, its brand ambassador. Aspirations have become high and people already started saying that the archaic Prohibition law of Gujarat is an anathema to the progress of Tourism in the State!
According to a well-known tour operator in Ahmedabad, “Gujarat has a magnificent coastline and real big potential to become another Goa. Some of the beautiful beaches across the State’s 1,600-km-long coastline are still unspoilt. If the Government ends prohibition it can do miracles for the state’s tourism industry!”
Says the Corporate head of a Gujarat based industrial house: ” Corporate environment has changed, it’s not limited to strictly vegetarian and teetotaller community anymore. We regularly meet the global investors and industry heads. The prohibition is not helping our business.”
Presently Gujarat’s prohibition law allows a liquor permit to foreigners, but getting such one needs time and lots of palm greasing. It gives group liquor permits for important conferences and international meetings, but again the process is too bureaucratic . Only the SEZs can use liquor freely, but till date many of them are not fully operational.
Bootlegging is rampant in Gujarat, and prohibition for such a long time has given rise to massive corruption among law enforcing agencies. According to a moderate estimate, Gujarat is annually losing around Rs.5,000 crore in excise duty.
But the Gandhians, the RSS and of course a powerful women vote base is putting every possibility of lifting Prohibition in Gujarat, in the uncertain future!
By: Deep Basu
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