A veteran journalist who enjoys looking at the quirky side of life

R K Nair

'Spirit'ual Kerala

| Updated on September 08, 2013

As the Onam festival draws near, the queues outside Bevco liquor vends in Kerala are growing longer and serpentine. The patient wait that sometimes extends up to an hour prompts one to conclude that Keralites are the most disciplined tipplers in the country!

Data released by the government recently showed that almost a million (9.5 lakh to be exact) men queue up outside 334 Bevco (Beverages Corporation, a State monopoly) outlets in the State every day. The number rises dramatically during festivals and holidays. There are no corresponding figures for the customers of 742 bars in the State. Put together, they form an impressive percentage of the State's population.

Kerala has the highest per capita liquor consumption in the country (over 8 litres per person a year), surpassing traditionally hard-drinking States such as Punjab and Haryana. It's estimated that 5 per cent of the State's population (roughly one in ten men) is addicted to liquor.

About 12 lakh bottles of Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) are sold through Bevco outlets daily. It, however, is somewhat lower than the daily sales of almost 1.5 million bottles in the preceding years. According to a 2011 study, Kerala accounted for 16 per cent of liquor sales in the country.

Even though liquor consumption in the State has fallen marginally, there's no corresponding fall in revenue for liquor companies or the government as boozers have migrated to more expensive brands. In fact, the government reported an increase of Rs 100 crore in income from liquor sales last fiscal. Incidentally, more than 20 per cent of the State's revenue comes from liquor sales.

A worrying trend for parents is the growing incidence of alcohol consumption among children. The average age at which one tasted liquor in the 1980s was 19 years. A decade later, it came down to 17 years. Now it's said to be 14 years in Kerala. Earlier this year, the State government raised the legal drinking age to 21 years from 18, but as is the case with many other laws, it only remains on paper.

High unemployment rate and easy availability of liquor are blamed for widespread alcoholism among the youth. There are suggestions to introduce cheaper drinks with low alcohol content. Toddy, Kerala's traditional drink, could be an ideal substitute, but unadulterated toddy is impossible to get today. Whatever little toddy is produced in the State is laced with hooch and toxic chemicals and sold as a potent brew to consumers from lower income groups.

A depressing scenario indeed!

Published on September 08, 2013

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