The Supreme Court order for closure of liquor outlets within a radius of 220 meters from state highways has badly hit liquor business in the Kodagu district, a year round tourist destination. Coovercolly Indresh has more…
The Kodagu district is a major tourist destination of the state as it is nearest hill station from IT-BT capital Bengaluru. Moreover, liquor is part of the culture of the district as every household stores liquor at home and offers it when guests arrive. The consumption of liquor is also more in the district because of the chilled weather a lot of tourists also prefer that.
According to the Tourism Department's estimate, about 15 to 20 lakh tourists visit the district annually and home stays have mushroomed in great numbers to cater to them. Though only 500 home stays are enrolled with tourism department, more than 2000 home stays are operating unofficially. G S Prabhu Dev, an office bearer of Home Stays Association told that atleast 10 percent tourists particularly youth ask for liquor.
The district has 218 licensed outlets, of which just 98 were renewed this excise year beginning July 1st. Due to this nearly 120 outlets closed down rendering more than 1000 people unemployed. At present, 35 outlets in Madikeri taluk, 27 outlets in Somwarpet taluk and 36 outlets in Virajpet taluk are functional. Somwarpet taluk is badly hit by the SC order as 54 outlets closed down. In Madikeri taluk it is 20 and in Virajpet taluk it is 48.
Of the 129 outlets shut down, 19 are CL-9 category which include boarding and lodging. The owners of CL-9 category had invested lakhs of rupees to construct housing facilities and it is not easy to shift the buildings 220 metres away from the highways. N K Thimmaiah, a CL-9 license holder told Karnataka Today that bars and restaurants and wine shops can be easily shifted to other places but hotels with lodging facility cannot be shifted easily. He said liquor was in great demand among lodgers.
Before de-notification of state highways by the state government only 62 liquor vending outlets could survive. After de-notification in Somwarpet and Virajpet town panchayat area state highways only another 36 outlets got a reprieve.
The district which achieved its excise targets during 2015-16 would lose its sheen now, said an excise officer. The excise department officers during April last itself had sent a special report to state excise commissioner citing that nearly 75 percent of liquor outlets would go if SC order was implemented. The report also stated that the Supreme Court has given considerable exemption to Meghalaya and Sikkim on the basis of them being hill stations. Quoting similar reasons it was suggested that a revision petition be filed in the SC in favour of Kodagu. The report also said that during 2015-16, 10,88,850 boxes of liquor were sold in district making it number one liquor sales location in the state. The report stated that the district has a population of 5,52,256 with an area of 4102 square kilometers and has 48 percent forest which comes under Western Ghats with a pristine biodiversity.
The district excise deputy commissioner also stated that the sale of illicit liquor may rise after implementing Supreme Court order and there is scarcity of place to shift outlets as it is a hilly region full of forests. Majority of the closed outlets are in gram panchayat areas and the state government did not de-notify in these areas, he added.