Thiruvananthapuram: Retail liquor outlets witnessed serpentine queues on Sunday with tipplers braving the heavy rain at some places and hot weather at others to quench their thirst as a result of the closure of 1,956 liquor shops following the Supreme Court ban on outlets within 500 metres on the sides of state and national highways.
Though the shops were closed on Friday, the impact of the SC restriction was felt from Sunday only as Saturday was a dry day.
Tipplers queued up before the 99-odd retail outlets of Beverages Corporation and Consumerfed right from morning.
Police had to be deployed at all the places to manage to crowd. It took almost two to three hours for customers to reach the counter at some outlets.
“While the normal average daily sale of Beverages Corporation outlet was around Rs 27 lakh, at some shops it crossed Rs 70 lakh by Sunday evening. Consid-ering the rush, it may even touch the `1-crore mark,” said a Beverages Corporation official.
The state exchequer would suffer a revenue loss of nearly Rs 2,500 crore owing to the overnight closure of about 70 per cent of the total foreign liquor and beer outlets in the state. Hence, the government may explore options to overcome the problem. Sources said that it may take a decision only after the Malappuram bypoll on April 12.
Meanwhile, excise department sources said the state government can tide over the crisis by denotifying the state highways as major district roads. Many states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra as well as Union Territory of Chandigarh have already initiated steps in these lines. Goa and Karnataka are under pressure from the liquor sector to denotify the state highways.
Kerala has 4,342 km of state highways, whereas the length of national highway is 1,781 km. Hence, a major chunk of the 1,956 shops, including toddy shops, may be able to resume if the state highways are denotified.
“The Supreme Court may not object to denotification of the highways as the court had also clarified that it was for the state governments to notify or denotify state highways,” an excise department official said.
Another option is to reduce the jurisdiction of liquor outlets. At present the jurisdiction is fixed as a taluk. However, if the government decides to change it to a ward, the population would be below 20,000. This would enable the state to avail of the relaxation prescribed by the SC. While liquor outlets are banned within 500 metres from highways, in the case of places with less than 20,000 population, the ban is only for 220 metres, said sources.
Sources added that the government was seeking legal opinion on the scope of getting at least an extension of time for implementing the restriction.
Meanwhile, there were also suggestions to explore the option of online sale of liquor. “If the state can open self-service counter, why don't we move one step forward and initiate online liquor sale,” a government official asked.
It may be recalled that a suggestion made by the former director of Consumerfed in this regard had triggered strong criticism and the government even stated that it was not its policy.
Meanwhile, an action council has called for hartal in Changanasserry on Monday in protest against the alleged police action towards a mass protest against opening a liquor outlet. C.F. Thomas MLA had also allegedly come under police action. The action council led by the MLA was protesting the opening a liquor outlet at Vattapally. The police action came after the action council blocked a lorry carrying liquor to the new shop....