State closes govt-run liquor outlets after move on bars and clubs
The Kerala government on March 25 enforced 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 or shuttered bars to sell liquor online or as takeaway.
Currently, it is illegal for bars to allow customers to take away alcohol. Hence, the government will have to tweak the liquor rules to approve the proposed transaction.
Kerala has, arguably, the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country.
The sale of legal liquor is also a significant source of State revenue. In 2018-19 fiscal, Bevco raked in ₹14,504.67 crore from the sale of branded liquor, beer and wine, a raise of ₹1,567.8 crore compared to the previous financial year.
The Excise Department had 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 has also 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.
On Tuesday, Kerala witnessed long queues in front of State-run liquor outlets following the closure of bars, beer and wine parlours and private clubs the previous day.
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 in public. It had also accused the government of having traded off public safety for appeasing the liquor lobby.
The police and Excise Department had told the government that lines in front of Kerala State Beverages Corporation (BEVCO) outlets posed a 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 liquor outlets. The Centre had not mentioned “beverages” in its list of essential items exempted from the country-wide lockdown.
The Bevco operates around 280 outlets across the State.