At Anaikatti village in Tamil Nadu, as early as 6 am, several vehicles flock to a hut which wears a busy look. This is the village toddy shop, which does brisk business between 6 am and 10 am every day. And itâ€™s not just people from Tamil Nadu who head here to get high - there are vehicles with Kerala registrations, too, at the shop.
Surrounded by hills, the toddy shop in between Kondanur and Pudur, according to sources, takes orders over phone and keeps them ready for the tipplers. It is run by a 50-year-old man, Arakutty and his wife.
The shop is run despite the fact that the sale of toddy is banned in Tamil Nadu.
Before independence, the British Tax policy mainly favoured the consumption of foreign liquor over traditional drinks like toddy. After independence, Tamil Nadu continued to adopt total prohibition till 1971. Then in 1971, former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi removed prohibition and allowed sales of arrack and toddy. Later, the sales were again banned in 1974.
In 1981, the government led by AIADMK lifted the prohibition on the sale of arrack and toddy. However, 1984 due to wide use of methanol in industries, methanol was removed from the purview of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act. Then again, in 1987, the sale of arrack and toddy was banned.
In 1991, arrack and toddy was banned by the new government led by former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. Then in 2002, methanol was again brought back under prohibition act.
Therefore toddy shops, like the one in Anaikatti, allegedly bribe officials to continue their sale - sometimes, up to 40% of the cost of each bottle.
â€śBetween two villages, Kondanur and Pudur, toddy is being sold in Anaikatti, 1 litre of toddy is being sold for Rs 100, they fill it in a mug and give it for drinking. If someone is getting it parcelled, they give it in a 1 litre bottle,â€ť explains Joshua, a social activist in the area.
Joshua says, the shop has been selling toddy for at least six months now. â€śThe nearest TASMAC shop is about 20 km from here. So despite the high prices, the toddy sales here have drastically increased,â€ť he adds, even when the shopkeepers hike the prices to Rs 250 to Rs 300 per bottle.
The situation is similar in Sulur Taluk of Coimbatore, where a shop sells toddy between 6 am and 11 am everyday. The shop owner, Ponnusamy, sells toddy at the cost of Rs 60 per bottle. About 100 people visit the shop everyday and sources say that there are close to 20 other such toddy shops in Coimbatore. In a video, Ponnusamy can be seen filling a 1-litre bottle with toddy and packing it with newspapers to keep it hidden.
The closure of TASMAC shops as part of the TN governmentâ€™s phased prohibition plan, and because of the SC ruling on not having any pubs or bars within 500 metres, is pushing more people towards toddy, according to reports.
The Hindu reported that after many TASMAC shops were shut in April due to the new Supreme Court rule, people from Pollachi and Walayar buy a litre of toddy from Kerala in exchange for 2 kg of rice, which they received under Public Distribution System. According to the report, while a litre of toddy costs around Rs 40, the toddy sellers take the rice, polish it and sell it for a higher price.