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After Little India riots, Singapore restricts drinking in public places

world Updated: Jan 20, 2014 21:47 IST
Manoj R Nair
Manoj R Nair
Hindustan Times
Singapore parliament

A little more than a month after its first riot in four decades, Singapore parliament announced a new law restricting alcohol consumption in public places and controlling the movement of people in the city-state.

Singapore is one of the few countries in the world where liquor can be bought at any time of the day and consumed anywhere.

On the night of December 8, the Little India neighbourhood, a 1.1 sq km maze of shops, restaurants, temples and mosques, close to the central high-rise district, exploded into riots after a worker from India, Sakthivel Kumaravelu, was crushed to death under a public bus.

Kumaravelu, who was reported to be drunk at that time, had been pushed off the running bus and died under its wheels. A mob of 400 people burnt police vehicles and damaged property.

After the riots, the police questioned nearly 400 foreign workers; action was taken against 295, of whom 213 were warned and 57 were deported and banned from working in the country again.

Charges of instigating riots, damaging property and defying police, were made against 35 workers. Subsequently, charges were dropped against 10 more workers, leaving 25 to face trial.

Little India, where thousands of migrant workers from India, Bangladesh and other countries gather during Sundays to repatriate money, eat, socialise, buy weekly groceries and drink, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.

Though the riots had lasted only two hours and not resulted in the loss of any lives, the incident rattled the multi-racial country of 5.4 million, of whom 1.1 million are foreign nationals.

Immediately after the riots, restrictions were placed on the sale and public drinking of alcohol in Little India. Public drinking has been completely banned and liquor can be sold by licenced shops only till 8pm.

On Monday, in the presence of the country’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, called the ‘Father of Singapore’, deputy prime minister Teo Chee Hean announced the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill that would give the police pre-emptive powers to interrogate and search visitors in areas declared as 'special zones' under the act.

The act will first come into force in Little India. Speaking in the assembly, Teo Chee said, “Madam speaker, I had stated earlier on the 9th of December that anyone who commits an offence will face the full weight of the law, and that we will deal with all the persons involved strictly, firmly, and fairly according to our laws. And this is exactly what we have done.”

The riots have triggered a national debate on whether the liberal rules about sale and consumption and sale of alcohol should stay.

Members of Parliament on Monday also discussed whether alcohol fuelled last month's mayhem.

There have also been deliberations whether the country should rely too much on migrant labour.

Tan Chuan-Jin, acting minister for manpower, in reply to questions from other members of Parliament, said Singapore should learn to do with fewer foreign workers.

He said the construction industry, the biggest employer of foreign workers, had been asked to improve productivity to reduce its reliance on imported labour.