The southern Indian state of Kerala is world-renowned for its lush green backwaters, slumbering houseboats, endless miles of sandy beaches, high literacy rate and, oddly enough, a population partial to a tipple or two.
Well, just a little more than partial.
The state has India’s highest alcohol consumption per capita with the average Keralite downing 8.3 litres of alcohol per year, more than double the national average.
Now the state government is planning to clean up the act by moving to become alcohol-free within the next decade.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, quoted in local media, said the state government was in favour of “total prohibition”.
From next April, only 5-star hotels will be granted bar licences.
It’s a strange twist for a state that is wetter than traditionally ‘boozy’ states like the Punjab.
And it’s all not just giving locals a buzz. The Kerala State Beverages Corporation runs more than 400 ‘licensed’ liquor shops and alcohol duty accounts for nearly half of the state’s tax revenues.
Additionally there are more than 700 privately-run bars in the state and more than 5000 shops selling toddy, the traditional local brew which, incidentally, will be exempt from the future ban.
Nevertheless, there’s a growing and very vocal lobby calling for a ban.
Scores of deaths are attributed to the state’s love affair with rum and brandy – unlike the rest of India’s love for Whisky – whilst a rising number of divorces have also been traced back to alcohol abuse.
And the majority of road deaths in the state are due to drink driving, according to campaigners.
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are packed out.
Quite apart from the equally vocal pro-alcohol lobby, which contends that prohibition will merely send the industry underground, other important segments of Kerala society are also worried about the ban.
Officials say it would be a body blow for the state’s hugely successful tourism industry: who would want to travel to ‘God’s Own Country’ when He won’t allow you to pop open a beer of an evening?
“How are we going to compete with Sri Lanka and Thailand?” said V Sreekumara Menon, secretary of the Association Of Tourism Trade Organisations India.
Whatever the outcome of the ban, there’ll always be toddy.