Kerala's Beverages Corporation (Bevco) is an entity managed through the direct control of the government, and forming a main source of income for the state treasury. It is estimated that Bevco has 270 outlets and 180 premium counters that make people, regardless of male or female, drink liquor. Bevco is also the supplier of liquor to 40 sales outlets of Consumer Federation, and private bars.
Inspections conducted in this organization by the Vigilance & Anti Corruption Bureau (VACB) following complaints received, revealed that serious corruption has been happening in Bevco and in the liquor outlets under it. In nearly half of the 62 outlets, the cash in hand at the counters was deficit by RS 1.12 lakh going by the quantity sold. In an adjacent spot cash worth Rs 33,000 was also discovered. In the surprise inspection, it was also found that in 10 outlets the amount in the cash counter was higher than the amount sold by Rs 13,000.
These are figures that came to light from a single day's inspection. Officials charge consumers higher than the actual price. Expensive brands of liquor are recorded as broken, and they are sold in black market, cash bills are printed in machines with poor toner showing blurred figures, and later the printed content is destroyed and consumer charged higher. So go the range of complaints received by VACB. And the findings of the surprise raids corroborate the charges. Today Bevco is also an organization to appoint staff drawn from the trade union of the main ruling party through the back door. Although it is laid down that recruitments are to be made through PSC, that is not complied with. Instead, party workers are appointed on temporary basis and later confirmed as permanent employees. But corruption at lower levels are relatively minor beside that at at the higher echelons. An examples cited of this is the misappropriation via commission in the process of purchasing billing machine and liquor. The justification for continuing with all such sleazy transactions is that it fetches a major revenue to the government, to the tune of Rs 1500 crore. If the Opposition too fails in making this serious corruption a topic of discussion in the legislative house, what sadly derives from it is the fact that all politicians, regardless of ruling or opposition side, are beneficiaries of this liquor empire.
The liquor policy declared by the LDF on its assumption of office, paved the way for not only the reopening of all the bar hotels in the state which were lying closed, but also for the sale of liquor in hotels of 2-star grading too. The rationale offered by the government for such acts, was the propaganda that neither prohibition nor liquor control was feasible. There were also the false statements from responsible quarters that tourism, the main source of income of the state, was facing setbacks because of alcohol controls. However, there are no expiric data establishing that tourist flow was reduced owing to the ban of liquor sales in 3-star hotels during Oommen Chandy's government, or the number of tourists increased when liquor sale was made widespread. Similarly, the argument that smuggling and sale of narcotics increased with the dipping availability of liquor, was also found to be factually incorrect. On the contrary, everyday incidents in the state prove that drugs, together with liquor, are destroying the health and peaceful living in Kerala.
A serious issue faced by Kerala now is that while the state already tops the list in per capita liquor consumption rate, the unhealthy habit is spreading in an alarming scale among students too. The state government has made an allocation for awareness creation with the claim that the Left government's policy is not prohibition but abstention from liquor and the means to achieve it is awareness creation. In some places, de-addiction centres are also in place to treat addicts. But in daily social life, there is no impact of such measures. On the other hand, as per a survey among the 15-29 age group, there has been a 10 percent rise in alcohol-induced diseases and injuries. Along with a phenomenal rise in alcohol consumption among boys, it has also doubled among girls, as per a survey among 5,784 students conducted by the Psychiatry Department of Ernakulam Government Medical College in conjunction with NIMHANS Bengaluru. The women drinkers told that they got the habit from the family. Also, not to be missed is the fact that the dominant student organization in the educational institutions of Kerala, is that of the left front.
In short, a broad spectrum of constituents including the government which deems liquor sales as a main source of revenue, Beverages Corporation run by those dear to the government, the bar hotel owners who prop up the government, the liquor trade union belonging to the main ruling party, and above all the liquor contractors who liberally finance all political parties, join hands and run a liquor industry; as such it is little surprise that they sink the state into intoxication. No matter who raises a voice, and at what pitch, against the corruption gripping the entire trade, nothing is going to happen. The prohibition activists and abstention movements will be crushed by the clutches of these stake-holders. Prayers can be made only to them to save 'God's own country'.