Beachside cafes in Kerala violate liquor policy, want govt to relax norms

Kerala’s liquor policy allows liquor to be served only at three-star and above hotels and bars.
Beachside cafes in Kerala violate liquor policy, want govt to relax norms
Beachside cafes in Kerala violate liquor policy, want govt to relax norms
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Tourists visiting Kerala's Lighthouse Beach near Vizhinjam harbour at Kovalam often like to relax at noon with some chilled beer. But unlike the normal practice of serving in beer glasses, the restaurant and cafe owners along the beachside serve beer to their customers in coffee mugs. Kerala has a partial ban on liquor, with the state’s liquor policy allowing alcohol to be served only at three-star and above hotels and bars. 

But the cafes and restaurants frequented by tourists at Kovalam don’t have any star rating, “Its a risk serving liquor to tourists as none of us here have a liquor license, also the police don't want us to serve the tourists openly while there is a partial ban on liquor in the state,” says Immanuel* a cafe owner as he asks customers to not keep their beer bottles openly on the table. Instead, he requests them to keep the bottles on the ground under their tables. “If we don't sell liquor the foreign tourists will just stop coming here and that will be really bad for business,” he adds. 

The sale of liquor by the cafes and restaurants along the beach is illegal as the state has not given an option for such establishments to hold a liquor license, says the Excise Department officials. The sale of liquor along the beach is an open secret but police look the other way as the cafe and restaurant owners every year pool money and allegedly bribe the police.

“We have an association that all restaurant owners are a part of, we pool some money each year and donate it to the police annual functions. So they don’t say anything about us serving liquor but just ask us to not do it openly,” says another restaurant owner to TNM. The cafes and restaurants buy liquor at market rate, add their own margin and sell it to tourists.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police Shanghumugham was unavailable for comment. 

Speaking to TNM, Gopakumar the Deputy Commissioner of Excise Department for Thiruvananthapuram says, “There is no provision in the present liquor policy in the state that allow such establishments to even apply for a license. This is a state government policy and it is the state government that has to decide on these issues.” The official added that by serving alcohol, the cafes and restaurants were in violation of the excise laws in the state and could face fines and even arrest if found in violation.

Liquor in Kerala was banned in 2014 by the then United Democratic Front (UDF) government and was revised in 2017 by the Left Democratic Front (LFD) government. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had at the time of reversing the policy said the heavy revenue and tourism losses to the state post the ban as the reason for the policy revision.

Speaking to media the Chief Minister had said “The UDF policy was impractical and had led to an alarming rise in the use of drugs. The LDF policy aims at abstinence. The government will start more de-addiction centres and will strengthen the existing ones,’’.

Restaurant owners like Immanuel hope that the state in the months to come will relax the rules for small establishments like theirs. “Our association is not a strong lobby group and not politically connected. Our hope is that the state government makes it easy for us to sell liquor to our customers by issuing us licenses. We know this is a political issue but this truly is affecting business. It’s not like we enjoy breaking the law, but we are forced to,” he adds. 

*Name changed on request

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