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Kerala booze ban now an inter-state problem, bars mushroom along borders

Vishakh Unnikrishnan | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

Towards the end of March, a man employed at a bar in the small town of Gwalimukha, Karnataka, some 50 kilometres away from Mangaluru, was attacked by some police officers during a raid.

These officers were from the Kerala Police, and were cracking down on the alcohol outlets and bars on the 434 km-long border between the two states. Gwalimukha has become a haven for many Kerala residents who wish to purchase liquor, after the alcohol ban came into effect in the state.

And after the Kerala Police cracked down on these bars, Gwalimukha saw the cops and bar owners reach a flashpoint.

Also read: Is the alcohol crackdown driving Kerala's youth toward drugs?

A question of jurisdiction

The man beaten up by the cops works at Sehlaj Wines, a bar that was raided last month, and was thrashed along with many others when they refused to furnish registration details.

"I was asked for the bar licence. I initially refused to show it, since we fall under the Karnataka Police's jurisdiction, not Kerala's," said the employee.

A video of the incident which shows the police brawling with bar employees also went viral post the incident.

Also read: Dire state: liquor bans may be popular, but are they affordable?

The owner of Sehlaj Wines says it was established five years ago, while a police officer from Kasargod in Kerala says it is one of the many that have sprung up recently along the border.

A more serious allegation is that these bars are helping to smuggle alcohol into Kerala. A bar employee alleges that the Kerala Police at Adhur, a village in Kasargod district, extorts Rs 20,000 from the bar every month, since it believes most of the alcohol is smuggled into Kerala.

Kasargod's Superintendent of Police, A Srinivas, says the situation is now under control, and strict measures have been put in place to avoid inter-state smuggling. He also denied all allegations of extortion.

But the incident has led to a strange situation - while the Kerala Police have registered a case against bar employees for attacking police officials, the Karnataka Police in Puthur has registered a case against the Kerala cops for unlawful arrest of employees, based on a complaint from the bar owner.

Same story in Tamil Nadu

Outlets run by the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation have sprung up across the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border as well, much to the discontent of the local populace.

Earlier this month, tribal women of Attapadi, in Palakkad district of Kerala, raised their voice against a Tamil Nadu government-run liquor shop that was set up in January in Anaikatty, Tamil Nadu, just 500 metres from Attapadi.

They are now demanding the immediate closure of the outlet.

Also read: Nitish declares prohibition in Bihar. Is it worth the cost and effort?

Women of Attapadi, Kerala, have been protesting against a TN govt liquor shop just across the border

The women complained that their spouses spent money on crossing the border and buying liquor, and, at times, got caught transporting large amounts back home.

According to reports, police have been deployed in both states to defuse the situation and prevent cross-border liquor trade.

However, according to a reporter from a regional paper who frequents the towns close to the border, hundreds are involved in smuggling alcohol across the border, and neither state government has been too inclined to curb it.

Over 700 bars in Kerala have been forced to shut down, as per the new liquor policy implemented by the UDF government. The result has been a decreasing tourism footfall, much to the dismay of the tourism industry in the state.

With women groups and bar owners increasingly voicing their concerns about increasing alcohol smuggling from neighboring states, this is now threatening to turn into an inter-state issue, especially at the time of the state Assembly elections.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

Also read: Supreme Court approves liquor prohibition in Kerala

First published: 19 April 2016, 11:39 IST
Vishakh Unnikrishnan @sparksofvishdom

A graduate of the Asian College of Journalism, Vishakh tracks stories on public policy, environment and culture. Previously at Mint, he enjoys bringing in a touch of humour to the darkest of times and hardest of stories. One word self-description: Quipster.