Chennai: Tasmac liquor vends opened in Chennai after almost five months but received a cold response from people who consume alcholic drink.
No less than 640 outlets run by the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (Tasmac) opened for business on Tuesday but customers did not exactly queueu up in this coronavirus-hit city.
It was on March 25 that liquor shops in Chennai were shut down as part of the nationwide shutdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Although the national lockdown was eased on May 17, Tasmac continued to keep outlets in Chennai closed despite reopening outlets in the the neighbouring districts of Chengalpattu, Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur.
Chennai was perhaps the only major city in the country that had a long ban on liquor sale.
An employee at a Tasmac outlet at Poonamallee said his shop witnessed no rush for liquor on re-opening day. Things were 'normal'. "I think people don’t have money to spend on liquor," he said.
Tasmac and the Chennai police made elaborate arrangements at the outlets to enforce social distancing norms. Pandals with barricades were erected in front of the shops to prevent traffic congestion.
Tasmac officials in Chennai North and Central regions also reported poor sales. 'We expected a big rush for coupons in the early morning.
Social distancing circles were drawn and barricades were placed to regulate customers.Yet, there were few takers for the coupons."
One resident of the Ramapuram area said he saw no big crowd at the outlet near his house. "Those who really wanted to drink got stuff in the black market even during the lockdown.
There was enough liquor being smuggled in from the neighbouring districts anyway. And nobody wants to risk a COVID-19 infection by queuing up in front of shops’, he said.
However, the government continued to draw criticism from various quarters including opposition leader M K Stalin, who said it would result in a spike in COVID 19 cases.
Rajeshwari Priya, leader of Anaithu Makkal Arasiyal Katchi, staged a dharna outside a Tasmac outlet in Anna Nagar to protest against the government’s decision to reopen liquor shops in the city.
Tasmac earlier had maintained that outlets will be open from 10 am to 7 pm and only 500 tokens would be issued at any store per day. In the pre lockdown period, Tasmac sold liquor worth Rs15 crore per day in the Chennai market.
Tasmac made up its mind to reopen outlets in Chennai after the Supreme Court endorsed direct sale of liquor during the lockdown. The Supreme Court order on June 12 allowed the state government to come up with ways to sell liquor, online or through physical outlets.
As a result, Tasmac agreed to formulate a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the sale of liquor in retail shops. On May 15 the top court, however, stayed the Madras High Court’s order on May 8 to close all state-run liquor shops in Tamil Nadu, with immediate effect to maintain social distancing norms.