Sunday, January 9, 2011


The highly successful campaign designed by Kerala Government to lure international tourists to the state has established it as a major destination of tourists during the last few years. With evergreen greenery and idyllic landscapes, a visit to Kerala has become a must for many foreign tourists and the 100% literacy for which the state is well known helped its cause to no end. The state is also getting known better these days for the enormous consumption of liquor which is increasing year after year, though it is not known why Keralites are hooked on spirits, knowing well the harmful effects of consuming liquor. If a recent report is taken into consideration the growth in liquor consumption in the state registered an unbelievable figure of more than 20%in one year from 2009 to 2010! Interestingly on the new year eve the sale of "legal" or "government" liquor was more than Rs 1 crore a day!

Kerala witnessed a surge in liquor sales on New Year's eve with a record business of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) worth over Rs 32 crore, in spite of a recent campaign by several organizations to curb alcohol consumption in the state. Sales on December 31, 2010 increased by Rs four crore compared to that in 2009. In December 2010, IMFL worth Rs 597 crore was sold in the state while the corresponding figure was Rs 490 crore in December 2009. The figures available were the sales through the 338 outlets of the Kerala State Beverages Corporation, the main wholesale and retail dealer of IMFL in the state. Out of IMFL sale, 65 per cent sale was different brands of Rum followed by Brandy 30 per cent and premium brand liquors five per cent according some reports.

Official as well as unofficial efforts in Kerala through campaigns to discourage drinking do not seem to have any impact as reflected by the above sales figures. It is a common sight in Kerala to see crowds/queue in front of most of the State-run liquor outlets, with eager consumers vying for laying their hands on the liquor bottle. Paradoxically the very same people flock in large numbers to temples with two of the most popular ones, Sabarimala and Guruvayur located in the state while the state is ruled by the atheist communist party!
Add to this another irony that the Muslim population generally consider alcohol drinking a taboo from the religious angle. The per capita consumption of 8 liters of alcohol per year is just an average and it does no reveal the fact that those who drink are heavy drinkers while majority population do not consume alcohol.

Interestingly there is an inherent contradiction between the precepts and practices in Kerala as liquor is distributed by the state run enterprises like Beverage Corporation and Civil Supplies Corporation and the state derives almost 40% of its annual income from the sale of liquor! How can any government afford to forgo this revenue by going back to Gandhian values of abstaining from alcohol consumption? A valid question to which no satisfactory answer can be found. According to knowledgeable observers alcohol consumption is responsible for high divorce rates, major cases of hospitalization for alcohol related diseases and high highway deaths due to accidents happening in the state.

From nutrition angle the milk consumption in Kerala is hardly 100 ml per day per person compared to the all India average of 250 ml and the population ravaged by high alcohol consumption does not have adequate access to this protective food. Growth in milk production in Kerala has not kept up with the progress achieved nation-wide under Operation Flood Program and cost of milk rules high making it beyond the reach of poorer segment of the population. It is unlikely that Kerala can achieve a daily production of 7.5 million liters of milk to meet the normal need as per standard nutrition scale. However the fish consumption in Kerala is four times the national average. How the diet influences the health of the people who consume alcohol heavily needs to be understood more succinctly to unravel any potential long term damage waiting to happen here.

One of the suggestions aired frequently to tackle the rampant alcoholism is to introduce mild alcohol drinks like beer and wine which should not be heavily taxed so that they are made affordable to most people. The licensing restrictions need to be removed to make them available freely as normal beverages like soft drinks. One positive feature in Kerala is the wide scale distribution of Toddy, the alcohol beverage obtained from Coconut trees and there are more than 5000 Toddy shops offering this to the public under a state licensing regime. Toddy has about 5% alcohol by volume and consumption in moderate quantity is considered harmless. However the shoddy conditions in the vending outlets keep many potential customers away and they are more or less patronized by poor laborers. There is an excellent case to modernize the Toddy shops in Kerala on par with restaurants and juice parlors to persuade more and more alcohol drinkers to such joints. Coconut Board must look at the possibility of improving the quality and safety of Toddy so that it becomes an acceptable common beverage for a wide spectrum of consumers.

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