Covid-19 update: Amid lockdown over coronavirus, Kerala grapples with alcohol withdrawal
The Kerala government is planning to open more de-addiction centres across the state after being flooded with complaints about “irrational behaviour” and withdrawal symptoms among tipplers amid the closure of liquor shops and bars in the state due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
All bars were closed in the state on Sunday as part of measures put in place to ensure social distancing to check the pandemic in the Kerala, which is among the hardest-hit states by Covid-19 with 126 cases. On Thursday, the state ordered the closure of all liquor stores until 14 April in Kerala. The closure will coincide with the three-week national lockdown imposed from Wednesday to check the spread of the pandemic. It will be the longest for liquor shops in the state since a partial prohibition was revoked in 2017.
Alcohol sales are a major source of revenue for Kerala and the state government drew a lot of flak for letting liquor shops function while non-essential shops were shut.
State excise minister T P Ramakrishnan said the government will provide free treatment at the de-addiction centres. “We admit it is a social issue. But our hands are tied now. We can only open more de-addiction wards in the hospitals at this juncture,” he said
All district hospitals and medical colleges in the state have de-addiction units.
Police have stepped up security around liquor shops as tipplers continue frequenting them while state excise commissioner G Anantha Krishnan has directed officials to popularise de-addiction vigorously and keep a watch spurious liquor mafias.
“We have tightened security for outlets. At the same time we will keep a vigil on hooch traders,” said excise commissioner.
Kerala has faced several hooch tragedies when the government has restricted the supply of liquor. In 1982, 77 people were killed in a hooch tragedy in Kochi, and 32 people died in another tragedy in Kollam district in 2000.
The government has explored ways to distribute liquor online but it is difficult to do so because of the lockdown. “We have no such plan now. It seems more cumbersome at this juncture,” said Ramakrishnan.
Tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran said the sudden closure of booze outlets has created a big social issue. “The government always insisted on abstinence, not a blanket ban. Regulars will go to any extent to get their usual kick. We are worried about the social ramifications it has created,” he said.
Sensing the problems, the government had earlier exempted liquor from the lockdown restrictions and pushed it to an essential commodities list. The move prompted much criticism from the opposition and prohibition activists.
“The government can’t encourage liquor like this. It is only interested in money not welfare of its subjects,” said former PCC chief and four-time MP V M Sudheeran.
The government had issued directions against long queues outside Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC)-run liquor outlets to ensure social distancing. The customers were asked to use masks and that only five of them can queue up and maintain a distance of one meter between them. But these instructions were hardly followed.
On Wednesday, the government issued directions against long queues outside Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC)-run liquor outlets to ensure social distancing. The customers were asked to use masks and that only five of them can queue up and maintain a distance of one metre between them. But these instructions were hardly followed.
The KSBC sells liquor worth Rs 40 to 45 crore daily. In 2018-19, it sold alcohol worth Rs 14, 508 crore, according to State Beverages Corporation statistics. Excise duty on liquor in the state is between 300% and 500% and the closure of liquor shops has hit the government revenues hard. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan justified the move to keep the liquor shops open on Monday citing social issues if they were closed.