Thiruvananthapuram: Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day lockdown across India and after vehement criticism from the opposition Congress-led UDF and BJP, the Left Front government in Kerala decided to close down all outlets of state-run beverage corporations selling alcohol.
This closure will apply to 265 liquor outlets of the Kerala State Beverages Corporation, across the 14 districts. The state government had earlier closed alcohol outlets in Kasargod, the district worst affected with coronavirus.
A major chunk of the state government's revenue comes from beverage sales. The 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 was Rs 2,521 crore.
The state has 598 bars, 357 beer parlours and among the 301 liquor outlets, Kerala State Beverages Corporation owns 265, while Consumerfed owns the remaining 36 shops.
Earlier, after a COVID-19 review meeting, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said closing the outlets would create social problems.
"Beverage outlets will remain open. We have had some bad experiences when the government stopped the sale of liquor. It will create many social issues," he had said.
He had also quoted a tweet from Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to defend his decision. However, this was criticised by Congress leaders, who said it was a blunder to equate "beverages" with "liquor".
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala and BJP state President K Surendran said it would push the state into a dangerous situation.
At many locations, people were seen queuing up before beverage outlets in large numbers, a potential risk of spreading coronavirus.
However, pictures of 'law obedient' men in such queues also went viral, where they were seen maintaining proper distance from others outside the liquor stores.
At Vatakara in Kozhikode, a town close to Mahe in Pondicherry which closed liquor outlets, huge crowds swarmed the front of one shop.
Police had to wave lathis at the crowd to drive them away.