Prohibition In India’s Kerala State

Prohibition is headed for Kerala with a measure that is causing concern for what happens when the people are legally forbidden to drink.

It’s a plan that will take 10 years to fully implement, but the results should show themselves much sooner than that.

The BBC reports that Kerala has the highest per capita alcohol consumption in the country, at more than eight liters (almost 2 gallons) per person annually. Activists and physicians alike blame the high level of alcohol abuse for road accidents and marital discord, saying that the small state’s hospitals and rehabilitation centers are full of patients who suffer from alcohol-related diseases.

In a press conference, Kerala’s Chief Minister, Oomnen Chandy, outlined the proposed measures that will begin in the coming months.

The first phase of the prohibition involves closing 730 bars through a refusal to renew liquor licenses. More alcohol-free days will be introduced, making it illegal to drink on Sunday, starting on October 2 of this year, adding to the number of dry days each month.

Starting in 2015, only luxury hotels will be allowed to sell and serve alcohol. As many as 383 state-operated liquor retailers will be shut down at a slower pace, 10 percent each year.

Chandy, speaking with reporters, said:

“The state should be prepared to accept total prohibition within this period [of 10 years].”

The Times of India reports that business owners are worried that this prohibition will impact tourism to Kerala, a mecca for visitors to India. There is also a concern for how the ban will affect revenue; alcohol sales and taxes are said to account for more than 20 percent of Kerala’s annual budget of 418 billion rupees (approximately $8 billion, American).

Currently, there are only three dry states in India. Gujrat, Nagaland, and Mizoram have complete prohibitions on the sale and consumption of alcohol. But there have been problems.

In July of 2009, 136 people died from drinking bootleg liquor, while an additional 276 were hospitalized. This incident brought demands for a repeal of prohibition as nearly 7,000 people were booked for violation of the ban and widespread bootleg-related police corruption was unveiled. The state’s answer was to introduce a bill into the Assembly that would amend the law, calling for more stringent penal action (including the death penalty) for individuals convicted in illegal liquor cases.

The State of Kerala in India is preparing to go dry despite concerns
The State of Kerala in India is preparing to go dry despite concerns

Located on the Malabar coast, Kerala is a small state in the southwest region of India.

Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India, with 98.9 percent of the population educated. Despite its small size, it has a very high level of human development and is home to 2.76 percent of India’s population. It is three times as densely settled as any other part of the country, with more than 33 million inhabitants.

In the past, the total prohibition of alcohol has caused more problems than it solved. The Noble Experiment, as it was called in the late 1920s, was a failure with far-reaching costs for the United States.

During the 13 years of American Prohibition, crime rates went up as bootleggers and mobsters circumvented the ban on alcohol to rake in cash, using brass knuckle methods to ensure their business continued and flourished. More people drank alcohol, and they were drinking more per person. Unregulated production resulted in poisonings, explosions, and a variety of other negative social results.

The loss of booze-related revenue to the U.S. government during Prohibition was a shocking $11 billion. Whole segments of the population lost their livelihood as production and transport jobs dried up.

Residents protesting in the streets against the closing of a bar in Kerala
Residents protesting in the streets against the closing of a bar in Kerala

Kerala stands to lose revenue from alcohol sales, but it may also suffer where tourism is concerned. It’s a laid-back state which promotes itself as “God’s Own Country,” and not every tourist stays in a five-star hotel.

In the last year, Kerala saw 800,000 foreign tourists. The state’s economy depends largely on tourism.

Previously, as reported by The Inquisitr, authorities in Kerala have blamed Bob Marley for the rise in drug use among the state’s youth.

Speaking with The Financial Times, G. Gopinathan, the president of the Association of Approved and Classified Hotels of Kerala, has voiced his disapproval of the prohibition measure:

“It’s a very bad decision for the tourist industry. Not anywhere in the country or anywhere in the world has prohibition been implemented successfully. It’s just going to encourage bootlegging and all kinds of nefarious activities.”

Soon, there will be no more long lines of scraggly men at the liquor shops, which serves — on average — 230 customers an hour, 11 hours a day, seven days a week. The government stands to lose in a big way as it closes more than 700 privately owned bars and approximately 5,000 toddy shops.

As a social experiment, prohibition has merit, but will be difficult to enforce. The authorities in Kerala might discover that, by driving the population to bootleg operations, they have created a million other problems for the government. Between a loss of revenue and a rise in prohibition-related crimes, the cost might be higher than Kerala’s population is willing to endure.

[Image Courtesy of AFP / Getty]