Protests against the Kerala Beverages Corporationâ€™s (Bevco) move to relocate several of its liquor outlets to residential areas- continue to draw public ire across the state.
Following the Supreme Court order in December last year, Bevco was given time till 31 March 2017 to relocate liquor shops located within 500 metres from the state and national highways, or risk revoke of licenses.
Subsequently, protests broke out at several places including Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, Idukki and Wayanad against the proposed relocation sites that lie mostly close to educational institutions, places of worship or residential areas.
Since 27 January, nearly 100 residents of Eachom in Wayanad have been protesting against one such proposed relocation (of a Bevco outlet) to their village. The outlet that is currently located in the Panamaram Panchayat seven kilometres away is all set to be shifted to Eachom.
Speaking to The News Minute, Reverend Father Baby -Director of the Adivasi Naattarivu Gaveshana Padanakendram- says that they intend to continue the protest till the end of March.
â€śWe understand the importance of protesting before the shift actually happens. Only then will authorities be prevented from doing so,â€ť he elaborates, while taking some time out to speak to The News Minute.
The priest and other protesters believe that the relocation will only serve to disrupt the peace in the village. With Eachom being home to a large number of tribals, residents fear that easy access to liquor will usher in a whole load of troubles.
â€śThere are two schools, apart from several places of worship in the village. Once the outlet is set up here, anti-social elements will start dropping in, making lives miserable for us,â€ť is how the Reverend sees it.
39-year old Sreelatha fears that the relocated outlet would pose security issues: "The proposed building is located at a place that is a pick-and-drop spot for school children. My home is hardly 200 metres away, where I stay with my two kids. With my husband away in the Gulf, can the authorities guarantee that shifting the outlet here will not pose any security issues to us residents?"
Agitators take turns at the protest pandhal put up at Eachom Town, where women protest during the day, while men take over at night.
Screengrab courtesy: Asianet News
Though natives are more or less united in their opposition, several auto-drivers have however come out in support of the move.
At Moolamattom in Idukki, locals have rejected the relocation outright. With Bevco looking to relocate two of its outlets here, residents are an unhappy lot.
"We do not want the outlets to be relocated. They would maybe find an alternate place, somewhere close to our homes. We would rather they down their shutters once and for all," says 42-year old Usha, a protesting resident.
They have even gone to hold numerous awareness rallies, highlighting the disadvantages of such a move.
Hardly nine square kilometres in size, Mahe in Puducherry has 62 registered liquor shops.
Of this, 34 may have to close down in the face of the new 500-metre rule. With very limited area available, the owners cannot even consider relocating, as it would entail moving 50-100 metres within a place of worship/ educational institution. And that would mean violating the Puducherry Excise Rules.
The Puducherry government has hence filed a review petition in the Supreme Court stating that the closing down of these 34 shops would cause a loss of Rs. 150 crore to the Union Territory. This would in turn have a drastic effect on its tourism sector, the government claims.
Jinos Basheer -general secretary of Mayyazhikottam (an organization of expatriates from Mahe)- who has been fighting a legal battle to ban liquor shops, says that they would be more than willing to pursue the case in court.
"Politicians and other officials are repaying the liquor lobby for assistance received during elections," opines Jinos, hinting at why the government was in a hurry to approach the Apex Court.
Mahe MLA Radhakrishnan believes that even if the government would have to incur a loss of revenue, the SC should take into consideration the larger public good:
"People of Mahe want the liquor shops to be shut down. They have been bearing the brunt of these liquor shops for several years, and have consistently opposed it. So instead of focusing on revenue loss, public demand is what ought to be catered to.â€ť