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Bevco pockets Rs.600 crore in December

K.P.M. Basheer

KOCHI: In the month just passed, drinkers in the State gulped liquor costing about Rs.600 crore, making December 2010 the most ‘intoxicated' month in Kerala's history.

The month also saw the most intoxicated day ever: this past New Year's Eve. That day, the Beverages Corporation (Bevco) recorded a turnover of Rs.32.86 crore. In December, Bevco sold liquor costing Rs. 598 crore. If toddy sold across the State and the liquor ‘imported' from Mahe, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka by travellers as well as smugglers are added, Kerala's liquor bill for December would be much beyond Rs. 600 crore.

If a tiny State that takes up just one per cent of India's area, spends Rs.600 crore on drinks in a single month, the matter requires serious attention of community leaders, policymakers, politicians and sociologists, anti-liquor activists say. “Keralites have come to a stage where they cannot think of a celebration without liquor,” laments Thomas Thaithottam, president of Kerala Prohibition Council. He feels that leaders of religious and cultural organisations, who are very vocal on other issues, are silent on alcoholism.

“The Prohibition Council is for prohibition in phases,” he said. “In the first stage, curbs should be put on sale of liquor.” He said the power to issue liquor licence should be given to the panchayats and municipalities in accordance with the Nagarapalika and Panchayati Raj laws so that these bodies could decide for themselves if they wanted to have liquor outlets in their areas.

Government blamed

T.J. Antony, director of Kerala Catholic Bishops Council's Temperance Commission, said the government was the biggest promoter of alcoholism. He sees the anti-alcoholism drive launched by the SFI and DYFI as mere ‘political drama.' Meanwhile, Bevco is set to have its best-ever year in 2010-11. According to Shankar Reddy, Bevco managing director, the annual turnover might overshoot the Rs.6,500-crore target. “If the current trend of 22 per cent increase in sales over the previous year continues, we hope to sell about Rs.6,700 crore worth of liquor by the end of March,” Mr. Reddy told The Hindu.

Over the years, the turnover of Bevco, the State liquor monopoly, has been steadily increasing. In 2007-08, the turnover was Rs.3,669 crore; in the following year, it rose to Rs.4,631 crore which went up to Rs.5,539 crore in 2009-10.

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