The Kerala High Court on Thursday asked the state Excise Department and Bevco – the sole wholesalers of liquor and beer, to start thinking about providing walk-in facilities at liquor outlets, instead of letting people line up in the streets.
Retail liquor vends across the state include 301 belonging to the Bevco and Consumerfed, besides 576 bars and 291 wine and beer shops and several of them are located in busy main roads and long queues in front of them are a common sight.
Hearing a contempt petition, Justice Devan Ramachandran orally said: “Nobody wants a liquor store next to their residence. This is a fact; there is no point in lying about it.
“But if liquor stores were like all the other stores with a walk-in facility, it would solve half the problem. The issue is that since these outlets are small and dingy, people line up on the streets, making it impossible for women and children to safely walk through these areas. I don’t see why we are burying our heads in the sand; this is happening and we all know it.”
The court was looking into the issue in a contempt petition regarding the non-implementation of the court’s four-year-old order to provide a dignified way to citizens to purchase liquor from Bevco outlets and also addressed the issue of overcrowding in front of these stores.
The Kerala government counsel informed the court that the Excise Department has taken several fast-paced ‘baby steps’ towards improvement of liquor stores in the state.
He also said that avoid overcrowding at the stalls, online booking services were also made available.
The case will now be taken up again on November 9 for further hearing.
During the proceedings on Thursday, the court also remarked that people were ready to spend thousands on the improvement of liquor stores in the State.
“I’m happy to see that there is no poverty when people are lining up in front of liquor stores. It is perhaps the only place where there is an egalitarian attitude; nobody wants subsidies, nobody demands reservations. Everyone obediently lines up for liquor without complaining,” Justice Ramachandran said.
A study of the profile of liquor users in the state reveals that around 32.9 lakh people, including 3.1 lakh women, out of the 3.34 crore population in the state consume liquor.
Around five lakh people consume liquor on a daily basis. Of this, 83,851 people including 1,043 women are addicted to alcohol, according to state government statistics.
Incidentally for fund-starved Kerala, revenue from liquor and beer is one of the biggest cash cows and in the last fiscal, it recorded over Rs 15,000 crore.