Onam Rs.34 crores (1 crore=10 million)
Christmas Rs.44 crores
New Year Rs.53 crores
These are the approximate figures of liquor sales in Kerala through the State Government stores during the last three festive occasions. They do not include the considerable quantities of alcohol sold through bars, illicit/smuggled liquor, sales by the Defence Services Canteens to serving and retired personnel and intoxicant toddy tapped from the palms.
Every year the turnover of the liquor outlets keeps increasing. This is not because of any escalation in prices. More quantity is sold. Even when the prices are hiked the quantity of spirit sales is on a high. And according to one report the demand for premium brands is growing in Kerala.
Why is the liquor consumption so high in Kerala? During normal days the average sales are reportedly Rs.15 crores. What would be the money outflow during festive seasons? We have only seen here the expenditure on spirits. There is so much more – new clothes, special food, presents, and so on. Where do the funds for all these come from?
Gulf money sent home by those who work there? Tainted or black money? Or do people of Kerala earn that much? If so, does such income reflect in the Income Tax returns/collections? Or is most of it debt financing? It is perhaps a combination of all these.
A former Director General of Police, Kerala said a few months ago that some men in the State are attracted to terrorism more for economic gain than by religious fundamentalism. This is a very pertinent point. Make money by whatever means so that there is enough to spend. A pattern has been set and people blindly try to follow that. Beg, borrow or steal to keep up with the crowd.
The State Beverages Corporation says that the record shows more quantity of liquor consumption because the number of ‘dry days’ has been reduced. The people who used to take illicit drinks on those days now buy from the official outlets.
Some blame the police for the heavy intake of alcohol in the State. To prevent driving under the influence of alcohol, police patrols are stationed near bars and clubs in the evenings. Because of the nuisance of being checked by the cops, many people keep away from such outlets. The bar owners complain that their business is drastically affected by the highly visible police presence. Some clubs have a pool of job drivers available to drive home members who drink more liquor than legally permitted.
In good clubs one rarely sees heavy consumption of spirits. Members drop in, meet friends, have a couple of drinks with some snacks over a period of time and go home. To a large extent, I suppose, it is the same pattern in bars. But now, for fear of police checking, many people buy bottles and take home where the drinking is neither measured nor controlled and probably gulping down quickly to avoid detection by family members.
Then there is the case of families where women object to alcohol being brought into the house. This restriction drives the men to bars where they quickly knock back a few pegs and rush home. That is not normal drinking. Such drinkers might consume much less if they could peacefully take limited quantities at home.
A few decades back when the constitution of The Lotus Club, Cochin was re-drafted, one of the changes suggested was that the members’ children who attained the age of 18 and were not themselves members should not be permitted to use the club facilities. This was objected to, and rightly so. The argument against the move was that the youngsters would go to who knows where if they were denied the club facilities. The age limit was raised to 25.
The point is that when there is some sort of supervision, though silent it might be, hopefully the drinker is likely to have an extent of self imposed control. It may also possibly banish the ‘kill the bottle’ or ‘finish the bottle’ instinct which seems to be the bane of many drinkers. For them, once a bottle is opened, it has to be emptied.
A better way of killing the bottle is not to buy one. But no amount of persuasion or counseling would help unless the person involved has a strong will to control or stop his drinking.