COVID-19: Kerala govt shuts down liquor outlets

COVID-19: Kerala govt shuts down BEVCO outlets
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Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala government has decided to close all the retail liquor outlets across the state for 21 days, the entire period of the lockdown till April 14. 

This was decided at the Cabinet meeting held at Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesaday.

The move came as long queues were witnessed at the counters on Tuesday despite the statewide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Beverages (Manufacturing & Marketing) Corporation Ltd's (BEVCO) 265 outlets and 36 outlets run by Consumerfed will be shut during the lockdown period.

However, even before the Cabinet convened, BEVCO MD Sparjan Kumar had directed all outlets to shut shop on Wednesday.

The decision was conveyed to managers of the outlets, officials said on Wednesday morning. 

The Cabinet has also decided to consider selling liquor bottles online. 

At the moment, the Abkari Policy as it stands, does not have provision for online sales. The state government will have to amend the rule to facilitate the online sale of liquor. A decision is expected to be made in two days.

Earlier, despite the Opposition Congress's demand, the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government had been reluctant to close the outlets, a major revenue source for the state.

On an average the Kerala government-owned BEVCO sells bottles worth around Rs 40 crore a day (last fiscal the sales fetched nearly Rs 15,000 crore; in addition, there is the annual excise revenue of nearly Rs 2,500 crore). So, even if BEVCO is asked to shut down for only two weeks, the state is staring at a loss of up to Rs 600-700 crore.

On Tuesday, tipplers thronged the outlets unmindful of the curfew as officials asked them to ensure that they kept a one metre distance between them as part of preventive steps to check the coronavirus transmission.

The government had instructed the outlet managers to take precautionary measures to prevent the virus spread while selling the liquor. Only those wearing masks were allowed to stand in queues.

Police were also deployed to ensure that the people standing in queues keep a one metre distance.

Later, the Opposition had slammed the LDF government for not taking steps to restrict crowds in front of the outlets, apprehending that such a situation would pave way for spreading the virus.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday had justified the decision to keep the liquor shops open citing the "peculiar" situation prevailing in the state.

However, the government had to change its stand after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a pan-India lockdown starting Tuesday midnight.

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