Kuriakose, 80, an ardent lover of the Kerala toddy (fermented coconut sap) who has never tasted foreign liquor, is angry that he hasn’t had his favourite drink for more than 80 days.
“Christians do not consume alcohol 50 days prior to Easter, that’s the only time I don’t consume toddy. Rest of the days of the year, it’s a must in the evening. This has been my practice since I was 17. But this year the lockdown was announced and I didn’t get even a drop to drink on Easter day. Though they announced the reopening of the shap (toddy shop) on May 13, there is nothing. How irresponsible are they!” Kuriakose couldn’t hold back his anger.
Toddy lovers in the state are desperate because even though there was an order to reopen the toddy shops, the stock is very low and many of the shops are still closed. There are more than 3,500 toddy shops in Kerala, out of which one-fourth are still not opened.
In Palakkad’s Chittur, the toddy capital of Kerala from where a large quantity of toddy is produced and transported to 12 other districts, toddy tapping hardly happens these days. As per reports, before the lockdown more than 3 lakh litres of toddy was tapped from Chittur’s coconut groves. There are about 1,200 coconut groves in the area with 100 to 200 trees per grove, from where toddy is tapped.
“Many of the labourers returned to their hometowns and are not able to come back. Most of them were from Tamil Nadu. Due to this, presently we have only 30 to 40% of the total workers. That is the main issue,” Swathanthra Kallu Chethu Thozhilali Union (SKCTU, toddy tappers association) general secretary K Sivan told TNM.
Sivan added that tapping happens only in about 250 coconut groves now.
“Another major issue is that toddy shop licensees are reluctant to open as they have already faced a huge loss. The bidding for toddy shops happened just before the lockdown. They spent a good amount to bid for the shops for a year. On top of that they had to shut down for a long time. So they are reluctant to open as there is confusion over the reopening. They are scared whether they will be asked to shut again, which will incur more loss,” Sivan added.
PG Dev, Vice President, SKCTU Kasaragod district, said that it will take time to get sufficient toddy as the pots attached to the coconut trees to collect the sap had been removed as per the lockdown rules.
“We had removed the pots from the trees. So it will take time to collect the sap. Moreover, the licensees are not opening the shops, so tappers are hesitant to start work. But they have slowly resumed work now,” Dev said.
However, Sivan pointed out that allowing toddy taping without opening the shops is not a good idea as it gives scope for adulterated liquor to be sold.
“When the toddy tapping begins, some middlemen try to increase the quantity of the toddy by adding spirits and other substances. When the demand is high because there are no liquor shops, such adulterated toddy will sell easily. Moreover, we cannot meet the demand presently. There should be some measures to bring the tappers back to work here,” he said.