As tipplers in Tamil Nadu prepare to cheer the resumption of liquor sales from May 7, the state government on Wednesday announced an increase in IMFL rates, while the police devised age-based happy hours, apparently as a crowd control measure in these COVID-19 times.
With a surge of booze lovers expected to hit the staterun TASMAC outlets on Thursday, police announced age-specific time slots for the sale of liquor, which will however, be not available in this city and three of its adjoining districts.
The DMK-led opposition bloc decided to oppose the government's move by asking its cadre to wear black badges and raise slogans against the ruling AIADMK, as well as the Centre on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the price revision was being effected following a 15 per cent increase in excise duty on Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL), an official release here said.
Accordingly, the rate of a normal brand of 180 ml of IMFL will go up by Rs 10, while premium ones will see a price increase of Rs 20, it said.
The decision to hike the rates comes a day ahead of TASMAC retail outlets set to reopen in Tamil Nadu, with the government giving the nod to resume sales citing the Centre's relaxation in this connection and tipplers from border districts thronging shops in Karnataka and AP on May 4.
Liquor sales contribute significantly to the state's coffers, with the turnover said to be around Rs 29,000 crore in 2019-20 FY.
The country had entered the third phase of the ongoing coronavirus-triggered lockdown on Monday, albeit with some relaxations, including on resuming liquor sales.
Incidentally, the Andhra Pradesh government had twice increased the liquor rates in the past two days, totally effecting a 75 per cent increase to "discourage" people from consumption and safeguard their health.
Meanwhile, the state police, tasked with ensuring law and order at the vends, proposed age-based sale slots.
Accordingly, liquor for people aged over 50 years will be sold from 10 am to 1 pm, while those between 40-50 years can visit the retail outlets from 1 pm to 3 pm.
Those below 40 years will be sold liquor from 3 pm to 5 pm when the shops run by the state-run Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) close for the day.
Identity cards may be checked to enforce this norm.
Presence of adequate personnel, erecting of barricades and maintaining social distancing are part of the police' bandobast plans for the TASMAC outlets.
Further, with the government making it clear that retail shops in areas covered under Greater Chennai police limits will not be open, the outlets in Chengalpattu, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallore districts, all adjoining the city, will remain closed.
The government had earlier announced resumption of sale of liquor with restrictions, including social distancing, but made it clear bars will not function.
It had also red flagged business in containment zones, but has faced flak, including from the main opposition party DMK, for opening up the flow of booze from Thursday onwards.
Meanwhile, the DMK-led opposition decided to protest against the government on the issues of its handling of the pandemic as well as re-opening liquor shops.
A DMK release said its workers and those from alliance parties will wear black badges on May 7 and a gathering of not more than five people outside their homes will raise slogans against the government over these issues for 15 minutes.
They will also protest against the Centre for not heeding Tamil Nadu's plea for funds to fight the COVID-19 battle.
The party slammed the government for its handling of the pandemic, alleging that there was no scientific approach against the contagion, even as it questioned the need to open up the liquor shops.
The ruling AIADMK's ally PMK also reiterated its displeasure over resumption of the liquor business.
Party chief S Ramadoss expressed apprehension that it will further impoverish a section of the population already suffering from joblessness, besides voicing concern over the possible spread of coronavirus.
MNM chief Kamal Haasan questioned the rationale behind re-opening liquor shops, saying during the lockdown people were supposed to venture out only to buy essentials.
"Whose essential requirement is liquor?," he asked in a statement.
He also recalled the AIADMK's assurance in the 2016 Assembly polls of implementing prohibition in a phased manner.