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Home / India News / Covid-19 lockdown turns Kerala into nightmare for tipplers

Covid-19 lockdown turns Kerala into nightmare for tipplers

The closure of wine shops as part of the lockdown to check the spread of coronavirus is creating social problems in Kerala and has prompted the government to open more de-addiction centres.

india Updated: Mar 26, 2020 23:11 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan times, Thiruvananthapuram
A long queue outside a wine shop in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday before the government shut down such outlets.
A long queue outside a wine shop in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday before the government shut down such outlets.(Vivek  Nair/HT PHOTO)

The lockdown to fight the spread of coronavirus has turned Kerala from a tipplers’ paradise into a nightmare and has flooded the government with complaints of irrational behaviour and violent withdrawal symptoms of regular drinkers, say officials.

The government has decided to open more de-addiction counters at state-run hospitals amid fears that the alcohol and drug mafia may step in to cash in on the demand for intoxicants.

“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. We will provide them free treatment,” said Excise Minister T P Ramakrishnan.

Amid the all-out drive to rein in the coronavirus pandemic, the state excise department has also started a vigorous campaign to make use of the opportunity to wean away regular drinkers from alcohol.

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The government had earlier listed alcohol among essential items and exempted wine shops from the lockdown. The wine shops were allowed to remain open till March 31. But by 11 am on Tuesday, wine shops were shut down as part of the countrywide lockdown.

State Excise Commissioner G Anantha Krishnan has directed officials of the department to raise awareness about de-addiction campaign vigorously and keep a tab on spurious liquor mafia. Kerala had witnessed many hooch tragedies when the government restricted the supply of alcohol.

The government had explored ways to distribute alcohol it online but it was not feasible in the present scenario (lockdown). “We have no such plan now. It seems more cumbersome at this juncture,” the excise minister said.

The growth of the drug mafia is another headache, say excise officials.

State Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran also said that the sudden closure of wine shops has created a big social problem.

“The government always insisted abstinence, not a blanket ban. Regular drinkers will go to any extent to get their usual kick. We are worried about the social ramifications the closure has created,” he said.

Health workers say they are flooded with complaints of violent behaviour and withdrawal symptoms from regular tipplers.

The government had anticipated such problems and had exempted wine shops from the lockdown and pushed it to essential list inviting much criticism from the opposition and prohibition activists. While announcing the opening of outlets run by state-owned Beverages Corporation, the government had set guidelines on social distancing and hygiene that entailed customers keeping a safe distance from each other and wearing masks. But these instructions were quickly ignored when shutters opened.

The loss of revenue is another cause of worry for the government as liquor remains one of the highest revenue earners and its sudden closure will choke the treasury.

On an average the government-owned Beverages Corporation sells liquor worth Rs 40 to 45 crore a day and in 2018-19 it sold alcohol worth Rs 14,508 crore. Excise duty on liquor is between 300 per cent and 500 per cent in the state which means a Rs 100 bottle of rum in the brewery will cost in the Rs 400-500 in the market.

The closure of wine shops is a double whammy for the government - drying up its revenue and sparking social problems. .