Ban on legal liquor sale may prolong till epidemic abates

Government anxious about revenue loss, entry of bootleg

The Excise department seems worried that a lengthy ban on the sale of legal liquor may prompt the sizeable section of consumers for low-priced brands to turn to local brews of questionable quality.

Enforcers were also apprehensive that a protracted gap in supply will spawn criminal networks that make and sell bootleg liquor in bulk.

Nevertheless, the State government was currently disinclined to entertain a long-standing proposal by the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC) to permit the online sale and home delivery of legal liquor.

The prevailing phase of prohibition was likely to continue till Assembly vote counting day on May 2. An Excise official said the onus would fall on the next government to chart the State’s liquor policy in the face of the forbidding tide of rising coronavirus infections.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan stressed on Tuesday that the government would not allow the press of people. Crowds catalyse disease transmission, he said.

An Excise official said that the CM’s stance indicated that the government was reluctant to allow the legal sale of liquor in the precarious phase of the epidemic. An official said the ban on bars serving customers indoors would continue till the pestilence abated.

The government was mindful that a pent up demand had caused frenzied crowds in front of liquor outlets when the Centre relaxed lockdown restrictions in 2020.

The administration feared that a repeat of the long lines and congregation of disorderly buyers at liquor vends would further accelerate virus transmission.

However, the government was anxious about the projected revenue loss stemming from the sudden drying up of taxes from the sale of liquor. It has also factored in the loss of livelihood caused due to the closure of bars and beer parlours.

For now, the government allowed licensed toddy outlets to sell fermented coconut sap as takeaways. The Excise stepped up vigilance to ensure that a potential spike in demand for toddy did not precipitate large scale adulteration.

Kerala has arguably the highest per capita consumption of liquor in the country. Any tweaking of the liquor police entailed significant social and political ramifications.

For one, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KCBC) has already warned the State government against permitting the online sale and home delivery of liquor. It has cautioned the administration against “making homes bars”. The UDF had also argued against the online sale of alcohol last year.

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