Despite the complete shutdown announced in the state due to the rapid spread of coronavirus, the Kerala government has refused to shut down retail liquor outlets operated by the state-owned Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco) . The government, however, said that bars will be closed but will be allowed to sell liquor from their front counters.
With state recording 28 new Covid-19 positive cases on Monday- the largest number in a day so far - the total number of positive cases in the state stood at 91.
Justifying the decision to keep the Bevco outlets open, the chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that shutting them could have serious social repercussions. To criticism from opposition on the decision to keep the outlets open, CM pointed out the action of Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in Punjab to include beverages in the list of essential items when as he announced that the state will go under complete lockdown.
According to several media reports, a huge crowd was seen in front of a Bevco shop in many places. In few places, due to unmanageable crowd, police had to resort to lathi-charge to drive some away unruly revelers outside Bevco outlets.
Leading daily Malayalam Manorama reported that many of the northern districts, especially in Kasaragod and Kannur and Kozhikode where the spread is on the verge of going out of control, huge queues have been reported in front of Bevco outlets. According to reports, police failed to enforce preventive steps including ensuring mandatory one-metre distance between those in queue and the use of protectibfe equioments like masks and gloves.
During the media interaction on Sunday (March 21), the CM laughed away queries on Bevco outlets saying it was the result of distress buying on the eve of Janata Curfew.
Critics attribute the decision not to close down liquor shops to state’s heavy dependence on liquor sales for revenue. With complete monopoly of state over liquor business in the state, total annual turnover of liquor sales in Kerala during 2018-19 reached an all-time high of Rs. 14,508 crore and the revenue of the government from state excise during the period was Rs. 2,521 crore.
The revenue estimate from state excise for the current fiscal ending this month is Rs. 2,609 crore.
Kerala runs around 300 retail liquor outlets, 598 bars and 357 beer and wine parlours.
Even when Kerala was reeling under floods in 2018, reports emerged that the state consumed liquor worth over Rs 500 crore in during that 10-day period
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